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MASTERS TOURNAMENT MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 25, 2020
STEVE ETHUN: Good morning, everyone, this is Steve Ethun, Augusta National Golf Club. Hope this finds everyone doing very well. We appreciate you joining us on the call today, and especially for Tiger Woods, thank you, Tiger for your time.
We, of course, look forward to having you back to Augusta National here in just a few weeks.
So before we get started, just want to remind everyone on the call, we'll take about 30 minutes to ask Tiger questions about the upcoming Masters Tournament, and with that, Tiger, I was hoping you could reflect a little on what it's been like to spend the last year as the reigning Masters Champion.
TIGER WOODS: I like the sound of that. It's been incredible for myself and my family to be a part of this and for me to be the current Masters Champion, it's crazy that somehow it all came together for one week, one magical week, and to have so many things go right that week, and that's what you have to do in order to win an event.
But to do it there, there's so many little things that have to go right, and I've been fortunate enough to have done it four previous times, but last year was just an amazing week.
STEVE ETHUN: With just a few weeks to go, obviously your attention, I'm sure, has turned to preparations for April. How is that going, and what's your timeline between now and the Masters?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, once we get to Florida, it feels like the Masters, right around the corner. But I've been thinking about this for -- probably since Australia. I was so focused on what I had to do with those two weeks, in the Bahamas, as well as Australia.
But once that was done, my prep has been just like it usually is, is what do I need to do to get ready for the Masters. I've been fortunate to have done this now five times, and to try and have everything peak together for just an incredible week, it's hard to do.
It's hard to try and get all the shots and have everything dialed in, but I've been excited since -- I've been a part of the Masters since I was 9 years old, and it doesn't cease to amaze me is that once when I go back to Augusta National, just the beauty and the history and the aura around it, it's just unlike anything that we have in our sport.
Q. I'll start by just throwing out a general one here. Obviously your win was iconic and it stretched beyond just golf. It moved people beyond the game, and I'm curious from your standpoint looking back now, what kind of reaction did you get from people that really stood out? Was there anything, perhaps a letter, e-mail, text, what-have-you, that really struck you that this meant more than just the usual victory?
TIGER WOODS: I had just an amazing amount of e-mails and texts that were flowing in, but I was more surprised the amount of videos of people watching the Masters and seeing their reaction when I hit the shot on 16 or when I made the putt, whether it was on airplanes or in airports or restaurants. It was just -- that part of it, being -- I'm on the other side of it, so I'm out there hitting the shot.
But seeing the amount of reactions and the amount of people that were riveted by the Masters and that were -- the amount of emotion that people were showing, that's what blew my mind is I didn't think that that many people were going to be moved that way. I was just trying to win the event and do something I've never done before, which is come-from-behind in a major championship and win.
Ironically enough, looking back on it, to have the event end a little bit earlier and to have that amount of people watch; I even had a few people here in this area that said to me, "We didn't watch it. We went and played golf and we had it on DVR. So we were able to watch it when we got back," and then at that point responded, because most people have mobile devices and alerts and all the different ways that people get reminded, but a few of my friends just didn't watch it.
Q. Did you watch it yourself at all in full, the final round at any point?
TIGER WOODS: I did. The first time I watched it was about a month after the event. Joey came down and we watched it together. We were talking back and forth, and reliving every bit of it. Because we have a certain viewpoint of how we look at it, the shots, the numbers, the situations, and people are making birdies and all the different scenarios were playing out in our heads.
But it was kind of fun to sit back and listen to the broadcast and hear their take on it. You know, what we don't have access to is what people are -- how they are doing it in front of us, and you know, we hear the roars. We hear the birdies that were being made. We have the signage that people pop up and what they have done; we just don't know how they did it. That was kind of the fun part is reliving that from a totally different perspective than what we did.
Q. The emotional reaction you had when you won became such a part of the story. With your kids, was there a moment or two later that night or after you got home or whatever, where they said something or did something that really stuck with you and really touched you about they were there to see it and fully appreciate it?
TIGER WOODS: I think what made it so special is that they saw me fail the year before at the British Open. I had got the lead there and made bogey, double, and ended up losing to Francesco.
So to have them experience what it feels like to be part of a major championship and watch their dad fail and not get it done, and now to be a part of it and when I did get it done, I think it's two memories that they will never forget; and the embraces and the hugs and the excitement, because they know how I felt and what it felt like when I lost at Carnoustie. To have the complete flip with them in less than a year, it was very fresh in their minds.
Just watching them fight over the green jacket on the airplane was pretty funny. "I want to wear it; no, I want to wear it," and that's something I certainly will never forget.
Q. Couple questions about the 16th. Did you notice Michael Phelps standing there, and if so, was that weird?
TIGER WOODS: No, I did not. I did not notice Michael was back there. I was locked into what I was doing. I had just taken the lead on 15 and just trying to figure out, am I going to -- I already had an idea if it was going to be 7 or 8, and that's what I kept thinking and reminding myself that, hey, I've got to be committed to either shot. And then when we got over and the wind started picking up, I went in with 8-iron.
But no, I did not know who was there, and to see the reaction, to see Verne call it and to see Michael, basically, bending over in the same position that I was in leaning forward, that was pretty cool.
Q. What is the toughest pin for you on 16, and secondly, how do you approach that hole on Sunday when the difference of a good look at birdie or a potential bogey could be a matter of inches?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, well, trying to figure out, do you feed it back there or do you fly it back there. I've done both. I've hit cuts into that flag, or I've shaped it off the hillside. But either way, there's a pretty big area that you can get the ball back into that hole.
Yeah, but it's a very -- it's an easy pin to get the ball, you know, 20 feet below the hole. Now, trying to get it all the way back there, then the risk comes into play of hitting the bunker or hitting it over the back or hitting it up on the right and having virtually, you know, being in a dead position. But hitting it just below the hole 20 feet is really not that hard a shot.
The hardest pin I think there is that front right one. I know they moved the tee up to get to that front right one, but still, there's really no area to hit to. I've had, over the years, two different game plans: Either go right at the flag, and if I miss, it miss it right of the flag, and I've got an easy little chip or right up the hill.
And I also have years where I just play short left and just putt up the hill and take my three and move on. If I happen to hit a good shot where the ball cuts over the flag, then I could have a potential birdie.
But any time that I walk away with three on that hole to that front right flag is always good.
Q. I was hoping to ask you a couple things. What was your thought as you walked up to 9 and saw where your ball was, and how big was that up-and-down and how difficult?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, that putt, unfortunately, I've had it -- fortunately and unfortunately, I've had that putt before. I have left it on the middle shelf, and so that's obviously not where you want to be, but also, then again, it's very easy to putt the ball over the green, or actually, down the front edge of the green.
The good thing that I had going for me was that at that time, the wind was a little bit into me, so I had a little bit of a backboard with that wind being slightly into me.
But it's being committed to hitting that ball up there into that fringe, or near the fringe. Only problem is if you get it too far right, actually, it gets a little steeper and picks up a lot of speed. The conservative approach is play it a little bit left of the hole and you know take your 10-, 15-footer and move on with a four or five.
But I decided to take a little bit more of a risk, and knowing that I had a little bit of a backboard with the wind kind of coming slightly into me.
Q. What was your thought after going bogey, bogey and walking off the fifth and now you're three back going to that sixth green?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I made two bad mistakes there. I played 5 all for the week and played it in, what, 20 shots.
Just reset and try and see if I can get it back to under par at the turn. I know that Fran was playing extremely well. There's a bunch of guys that have a chance, but if I'm within six of the lead -- I've always felt this -- if I'm within six of the lead starting the back nine on Sunday, I've got a shot at it.
We've seen so many things happen on the back nine. Guys have won shooting 30s and guys have lost it shooting well over 40; so anything is possible. I just need to get myself into that position where I had that opportunity, and I was able to play my way back into it and a couple guys made a few mistakes there at 12, and lo and behold, I'm part of the lead.
Q. I'm curious, you mentioned coming into Sunday, the first time you trailed at a major and went on to win that major. At what point during the round did it click for you, this is going to happen, maybe with a shot. I don't know when it was, where you're like, if I do this, this and this, this is going to happen.
TIGER WOODS: Once I played my way back into it and there was a bunch of guys with a chance, I made a mistake there at 10 making bogey; if I can somehow play both par 5s under par, maybe sprinkle in two more somewhere along the way, that I could get it done.
I didn't really think the tournament was truly over until I hit that little pitch shot on the green on 18. But Brooksy had missed his putt and that gave me a two-shot lead, and I knew that bogey was the winning number and I played it extremely conservative over to the right.
But once I hit that pitch up on the green, the tournament was over. When I was walking up on the green, to see my family and friends there through the chute, I started to get a little bit emotional and I had to rein it back in and say: Hey, it's not quite over yet. I've had this putt before. Let's go ahead and make this putt.
To be honest with you, once I knocked that pitch shot on the green, that tournament was over.
Q. Is the tee shot on 16 the shot you've thought back on the most, or is there a different one you've thought about the most?
TIGER WOODS: Well, we touched on it with Steve asking the question. I think it's the putt on 9, making par there. The guys made mistake there is at 12.
But the most pure shot that I hit was the second shot into 15, just through the forest, straight up in the air and turned it over.
The shot I hit on 16, yes, that was a nice shot, and it ended up in a really good spot, but the best shot I hit all day was the second shot into 15.
Q. You mentioned how long you've been playing in the Masters. I'm wondering how with the advancements in equipment and how far the guys are hitting it, but also the course having lengthened, how different does the course play now than it did back in the '90s, namely, the par 5s, and how do you see that evolving going forward?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I'll give you a good example is I've hit driver and wedge into 2. To the back left pin, I've hit 9-iron over the green a few times. That shot doesn't exist anymore. Trying to carry that bunker, it was just a no-brainer to drive it down there and then I could have some kind of wedge in there.
8, just try and keep the ball left of the bunker or over the bunker, have some kind of iron in there.
13 was a 3-wood, an 8-iron.
And 15, as you saw in '97, I hit driver, wedge in there. And so the par 5s have changed dramatically.
The shots I learned from Raymond or Seve or Ollie over the years, when I first got there, the bump-and-runs, using 4-irons and 5-irons around the greens, the fairways are so much tighter back in the nine tees. It was hard to get a sand wedge on it. Afraid of it bouncing, and so playing more of a bump-and-run shot was a little more of a proper shot.
Now with the grass height being a little bit longer and them overseeding it a little bit more, it's a little bit more sticky than it is around the greens.
Also, we don't have square grooves and balata balls anymore. The shots that we were able to play back in the '90s were a little bit different. I know that the green over the years, every green has been rebuilt, and every green is a little bit flatter than it was back then, giving us a little bit more room. Just because the fact we're a little bit further out, they are giving us a chance.
Granted, that's not saying the greens are easy; they are far from, but they are a little bit flatter, and the areas that we have to hit to are a little bit bigger, but granted, we are so much further back than we ever used to be.
Q. You mentioned hole 5; you mentioned you bogeyed it all four days. Do you see that as a potential strategy, lengthening more holes, or do you think that the course is in a good place now as a test?
TIGER WOODS: Well, Augusta National has been at the forefront of trying to keep it competitive, keep it fair, keep it fun, and they have been at the forefront of lengthening the golf course.
Granted, they have the property; they can do virtually whatever they want. Complete autonomy. It's kind of nice.
But also, they have been at the forefront of trying to keep it exciting. As the game has evolved, we have has gotten longer, equipment's changed, and they are trying to keep it so that the winning score is right around that 12- to 18-under par mark, and they have.
Q. I was just curious, looking back to last year and the early start, what a different Sunday that was for somebody at the top of the leaderboard at the Masters, what your routine was in the morning and how you dealt with a very, very different situation?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it was different. I was telling the people close to me that this is going to be different for a lot of us. It's a quick turnaround for me with my back and the way it was. I had to wake up a little bit earlier and get into my routine.
But I think that having the guys who have never won the Masters, now get a chance to have a quicker turnaround, not have to sit on that lead and think about it far into the afternoon, it's very similar to when we played The Open championship. We don't tee off until like 3 o'clock. Sitting on the lead, you have to figure out what you're going to do all morning long, try and kill time.
I thought it was advantageous to the guys who haven't won, but I hadn't been in this experience, either. I hadn't been there before, and I hadn't won coming from behind. So there was a lot of new things, and we were all having to go through it together and I'm going to have to go earn it, and being part of a threesome on that Sunday is something that I've never been a part of.
It was very different. Having the rounds be a little bit slower and a little bit more delayed is something we're not used to on the weekend. We are used to sort of running around there. It was going to be a new experience for all of us.
Q. First of all, you've done this long enough and had enough success that you'll be playing with your second U.S. Amateur champion from Georgia Tech as a defending champion. Any advice you might give Andy Ogletree on how to handle that experience, even comparing it to how you handled it back in '95?
TIGER WOODS: I usually tell the amateurs that I play with, coming up that first hole -- my first putt playing in the Masters, I putted off the green right in the gallery playing with Ollie. Chipped back up there and made the putt for bogey, and that was one of the most embarrassing moments that I can ever remember.
How to start off, your first major championship, you putt it off the green. I've told amateurs that experience before, whether it was all the way back to Kuch; that was one of the most embarrassing ways to start, but also, you know, now that I've been a part of the Masters, I'm able to tell that story. Usually it relaxes the amateur.
Q. A very broad question. You have a 25-year relationship with this place and this tournament. What is your personal relationship to that place, and what do you think it's meant to your legacy?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it was my first major championship, and to have it be when I was in college, and to stay up in the Crow's Nest, and to be up there with Tripp and Buddy and I think Tim Jackson was up there; we had just a great time. To watch Sam and Byron and Gene Sarazen tee off on the first hole, those are memories that I will never forget, and now to have been a part of it from the champion's side, and to hear all the stories that happen in the champions locker room, to hear the needling and the hazing that happens over the years, I've been lucky enough to be a part of it and I will always be a part of it.
Q. You mentioned guys making mistakes on 12. What do you think it was about the situation, the weather, the wind? How do you explain all those guys hitting into the water on 12?
TIGER WOODS: Well, as we all know, the wind swirls down there a little bit, and when I hit that shot on 11 and I turned it back into the fan, I probably hit that shot maybe another -- it played probably two to three yards longer than what I had thought.
And to see the guys ahead of me, whether it was Poults or Brooksy; when I got to that 12 tee, I could -- the feeling was that 11 played a little bit longer, and that shot is so inviting to hit it over there. It was warm out. I know that I don't quite hit the ball as far as Brooksy does, and I had 9-iron out, and I figured that his flight is more penetrating and he can get it back there, and he didn't quite get it back there.
Watching Fran hit an 8-iron there, and you could see it -- and I know he didn't quite hit it right, but I played it to the left.
Tony hit the best shot to all of us and he got stood up at the very end. It was a good shot. He hit it flush, but it stalled out at the top. If I had gone at the flag, my ball would have been the same thing, because mine, I played left, and it stalled out at its apex, ended up short left, and I had a putt.
Q. How does your health compare this year to prepping for the Masters last year, and do you think you'll prepare similarly?
TIGER WOODS: The plan is to prepare the same way. It worked last year, so yeah, I've got a blueprint for what I need to do and hopefully I can have the same feelings.
You know, looking back on it, one of the things, the best move I made the entire week was to not go out and play on that Tuesday when it was -- rain had come in and the greens had slowed up. They didn't quite cut them. The golf course was playing slower. I know they would speed up but Thursday, and I just stayed on the practice green. I chipped and putted, but I hit a lot of putts that were -- I hit downhill putts because I knew the greens were going to be a little bit faster and try not to get myself acclimated to that pace because I knew it was going to change come Thursday, and that was the best thing I could have done.
Q. Should we expect a similar schedule then coming up before the Masters?
TIGER WOODS: It's weather dependent. Last year we had the rain come in. The plan is to practice and prepare, and I had found a feeling right -- well, after the Match Play, I started to figure something out where I felt comfortable hitting the ball high and turning it over from right-to-left and I felt like I could control it.
Going into that week, I really had amazing control of not only my tee shots but my iron shots, and the amount of time that I spent putting, getting a feel for it, and then coming in there on that Sunday afternoon and getting a nice quiet round out there with Joey and Rob, that set the tone for what I did the rest of the week.
Q. What's your opinion on the possibility of lengthening 13, and what's the longest club you would feel comfortable hitting into that green in two?
TIGER WOODS: That I feel comfortable hitting it in there? Probably a wedge.
Q. No, what's the longest club you would feel comfortable.
TIGER WOODS: Exactly. A wedge. (Laughs).
That's one of the toughest shots we'll ever face. People don't realize how steep that slope is, and as they have lengthened it over the years, if you hit it -- if you don't quite get around the corner, that's the steepest part of the slope, and if you're able to turn it over and get it down there, it's a little bit flatter.
But trying to hit a cut off that hook lie, and some years having to start it right of the creek and hook it back over there, and if you miss it left, it's dead. If you miss it right, you're dead. There's not a lot of good spots to hit it into. It's a big commitment.
We saw what Nick did when he beat Greg there. He was trying to figure out whether to hit an iron or a wood there. It's one of the most difficult shots, especially last year with the wind.
When I hit that second shot, that wind came off the right and it should have been off the left. It's very easy to get fooled down there.
Q. Are you concerned about how far they will go to lengthen it?
TIGER WOODS: Well, they have done it before. You know, I think that what they do with the tee markers over the years, slagging it more to the left, and it seems like each and every year, the trees get a little taller and they have added more pine straw off the right side over the years, planted a few more trees in there.
You know, I've had different game plans over the years of hitting 3-wood to the corner, or hitting driver around the corner. When I first got there, it was just hit it up there, up near the gallery up on the right-hand side because we have more of an angle and the tee was more to the right.
Just for me, my length at the time was just drive it down there, and I'd have somewhere between an 8-iron to a wedge in there; take advantage of it, because the further right we can get on that tee shot, we're hitting back into the slope.
But also, then again, the flipside is if we're able to hug the corner, we're playing along the creek with the second shot.
Do I feel comfortable in there with anything but a wedge? It's one of the most difficult, underrated shots that we have to face there.
STEVE ETHUN: With that, everybody, I want to thank Tiger for his time today.
Before we let you go, I wonder your thoughts on your Champion's Dinner menu, if you've finalized that yet.
TIGER WOODS: I have. Being born and raised in SoCal, having fajitas and sushi was a part of my entire childhood, and I'm going back to what I had in 2006. So we'll have steak and chicken fajitas, and we'll have sushi and sashimi out on the deck, and I hope the guys will enjoy it.
I'm debating whether or not to have milkshakes as deserts because that was one of the most -- one of the most great memories to see Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead having milkshakes that night in '98.
STEVE ETHUN: Thanks for your time, thanks to all the media who joined us this morning, and we look forward to seeing everybody in April.
With that, we'll sign off and talk to everyone again soon.
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