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February 8, 2006

Tiger Woods

GLENN GREENSPAN: Good morning, everyone. I want to welcome you to the 2006 Masters teleconference with defending champion, Tiger Woods. Of course Tiger is one of three players to have won at least four Masters. Among the records he holds are youngest champion, lowest tournament score and largest victory margin. This year Tiger is two for two with playoff victories at the Buick Invitational and the Dubai Desert Classic. Welcome, Tiger, and if you don't mind, if you can just give us an opening comment.

TIGER WOODS: I'm really looking forward to it. Obviously, it's the Masters, so you know I'll be looking forward to it. It's our first major of the year and I can't wait to get out there and play a practice round and take a look at some of the new changes. Obviously there's significant ones.

And it will be interesting to see if this year we can play the golf course dry, because ever since the major changes in '02, we haven't played the golf course dry yet. It's been wet every year. So very interesting.

Q. As Glenn mentioned, you joined Jack and Arnie as the only four time winners there. What does that association with them mean to you, and considering the influence that all three of you have had on the game, is that a pretty comfortable fraternity for you?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I wouldn't necessarily say comfortable, but certainly one that I'm proud to have won four Masters, to even be associated in the same breath with those guys. These are the greatest players that ever lived, and to even be associated with them in any breath is always a good thing.

Q. Now a lot of predictions were made when you first embarked as a pro, including Jack saying that you would win as many Masters as he and Arnie combined, what did that kind of prediction and those expectations mean to you back then, and with four down, what does it mean to you now?

TIGER WOODS: Well, certainly I think those expectations, I think its Jack just talking. But I've won four, and I tell you what, it's been hard to believe, really, just because it's the Masters. I mean, this is something that every kid dreams of playing in, and hopefully one day even winning it, if you're lucky enough. To have an opportunity to have won four already, it's the thrill of a lifetime, really, to even be associated with those great champions and Jack and Arnold. I think that's one of the greatest tournaments in the world and I think so much of it.

Q. I know it's early, but I wonder if you can just walk us through what was going through your mind on 18 last year from the time you stood over that three foot bogey putt in regulation, signing your card, going back to the 18th tee in a playoff. Just take us through that whole thing.

TIGER WOODS: Well, after I made the bogey putt, I said, well, even if I make this putt, at least I'll put a little bit of pressure back on Chris. (Laughing). But more likely, he'll make it. Just get yourself together, and even though you played the last two holes atrociously, you still have an opportunity to win.

I kept saying if I was in Chris' position, the tournament would be over. I thought it was a break that I even had a chance to even win the tournament in a playoff. So I kind of basically spun it into a positive situation and said, hey, make the most of it because you have an opportunity here to still win the Masters even though you went bogey bogey where most people never have that opportunity. So take advantage of it, and see if you can try and pipe this 3 wood down the fairway and go ahead and put a lot of pressure on Chris, and I was able to do that.

Q. Secondly, from the Masters and then we saw it at Harding and the weekend at Torrey and the last few holes in Dubai, when you've had to hit a shot, you've come through with it. Why are you able to do that, do you think?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's just the moment. Your concentration is so high at that time, and all you're concentrating on is just placing the golf ball where you need to place it. I think sometimes I may even get out of my own way and just focus on just placing the golf ball and going back to how I was taught by my father. So that might have something to do with it.

But also, I think a lot of it has to do with your concentration is so high at that time, adrenaline is pumping, you're focused and senses are heightened. I think it's just the moment when I think that's when you're able to pull off some of your best shots is when you're in those circumstances, because your focus is so pinpoint that things are able to happen and unfold a little better than I think it would even like, say, on the first round of the tournament.

Q. To what do you credit your great success in playoffs?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's a lot of luck, really, to be honest with you, because I've had circumstances where I've won them and also circumstances where guys have made mistakes and I may end up winning that way.

I think the important thing is once I get into a playoff, I feel very comfortable because it is a match play situation, and with my past in USGA events, going back to my Junior and Amateur days, it's very similar to that, very similar circumstance. So being in a playoff is basically going back to my junior days and Amateur days where I had a lot of success.

I always have felt comfortable in a playoff atmosphere because it is let me put it this way, it's like hitting a putt: Either it's going to go in or not going in. Either you're going to win or not win. There's only one of two circumstances that are going to happen. So it's kind of a neat rush.

Q. And what do you recall about the playoff at Valencia with Billy Mayfair, besides you did come up on the right end of that one?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I had the honor of the tee and I hit just a terrible tee shot. Ended up making par and Billy made birdie from just short of the green. I had an opportunity to put pressure on Billy on my tee shot and I didn't do it. It ended up costing me with an opportunity to win that tournament.

Q. If you can think back to last year's Sunday No. 16, the tee shot, at what point did you see the ball? Could you see the ball while you were walking by the pond, could you see it from the tee box? And what was going through your mind, when were you beginning to formulate your chip shot, what you were going to do from there?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I could see it from the tee. I hit it so bad, I hit it left of the bunkers so I could see it. (Laughing.)

Yeah, I had an idea where it was. It looked like from the tee box it was right up against the cut. I knew that it was going to be virtually one of most difficult shots you could possibly have on the whole golf course.

When I got down there, I realize it wasn't up against the cut. I had a little bit of room and I had a good lie. Granted, the cut did influence my shot a little bit because I had to pick the club up a little steeper and get the club on it a little steeper than I would like to. But I had room, and if I was up against the cut, it would have been a totally different situation. I would have been happy just to have made a 4 somehow.

But I was just after I saw where the ball was I thought I had an opportunity to put the ball inside of Chris', which was about 15 feet. And to be honest with you, that's all I was trying to do, and obviously turned out a little bit better than that.

Q. When you think about that hole, when you think about the Masters, really, last year's tournament, do you think more about that chip shot and hole, or do you think more on the drive and iron you hit in 18 and the playoff?

TIGER WOODS: For me it's by far the drive and the iron, because the chip shot allowed me to obviously get the momentum going into the last two holes, but I still messed up 17 and 18.

The tee shot on 18 in the playoff and subsequent iron shot, you know, after hitting the iron shot I hit on 16, the tee shot on 17, the iron shot on 18 in regulation, to step up there and hit my two best golf shots all week, I mean, that gave me so much confidence going down the road into the other major championships and other tournaments because I was able to pull out my best stuff when I absolutely needed to with all of the swing changes I made with Hank. So for me, that was a big turning point for me momentum wise, as well as confidence wise.

Q. Have you ever had discussions with the Nike people and the implications for business with the constant replays of that chip with the ball hanging on the edge with the logo, and what do you think that has meant for you and for Nike?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it was free advertising, really. (Laughing). Something that you just can't quantify.

But I think it worked out well for everyone; obviously from my standpoint, because I ended up getting the green jacket. But for Nike, because that was a new ball that just came out and we were trying to promote the golf ball and all of a sudden, lo and behold, that's what happens.

Q. Even though you said obviously the playoff sequence was more important for you, do you think at this point that that chip shot might be your signature shot of any of your four Masters victories?

TIGER WOODS: I certainly think so, yeah. Just given the shot and the dramatic nature of how the ball ended up going into the hole, I think that and so many times in the past we've seen so many great moments there on 16, and I think it just added to that. So, yeah, 16, by far.

Q. I wanted to ask you about playoffs, too, since it seems like you can't win anything in regulation anymore. What do you like about it, the eyeball to eyeball, and can you talk about how occasionally you need to be more aggressive and how your entire strategy can change in a heartbeat? You mentioned your bad tee shot up at Valencia and against Mayfair and how it becomes almost a point counterpoint, and stroke play, four days of stroke play goes right out the window in a heartbeat.

TIGER WOODS: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It is match play at its epitome, because it hinges on it, can hinge on one shot; and its one hole, sometimes more. But anything can happen on any given time. Momentum switches happen within one swing.

You know, for instance, in Dubai, I am over there in the fairway and Ernie is in the desert. Well, if I go ahead and hit my shot in the water, all of a sudden Ernie lays up and more likely he'll wedge it on and make par or birdie and win the tournament. So it was important for me to put the ball on dry land where I had an opportunity to make birdie, and all of a sudden it forced Ernie's hand to go for it.

In the playoff against Ollie, Ollie was teeing off first; he hit the ball in the right bunker. Well, I knew that that was a very difficult par. So I put anything left of the flag, even if I'm in the green side bunker on the left, I have the easier shot and I have the advantage of making par and possibly winning the tournament, or at worst extending the tournament for one more hole. It hinges on one shot.

Q. Given your druthers in the tee box, would you rather go second so you've always got the opportunity to kind of counterpunch similar to, say, college football where you can kick the field goal or you know you always need to go for the touchdown; and secondly why do you need the eye to eye so much?

TIGER WOODS: You always want to go first and put pressure on your opponent. Even if you have an opportunity of it can hinge both ways. You can hit a bad tee shot and I'm off the hook, or you can hit a great tee shot and put a lot of pressure on him. I guess Ernie last week, I hit the tee shot first, I put mine in play and he obviously hit a bad shot. It was a difficult shot, but at least I was already in play and in the fairway and he knew that.

Going first against Ollie, Ollie makes a mistake, and it hurts his chances because I knew that par was looking pretty good on the hole; it could possibly win the hole, at worst, extend it for one more hole.

And going one on one like that is always fun, because we don't get to do that very often. It takes sometimes takes 3 1/2 days to get to the back nine on Sunday and you don't always have that guy in the same group with you. That's why all of us as players enjoy playing the Match Play down at La Costa because it's one on one; that's what we did as amateurs, that's what we did as juniors, we played in amateur golf, that's all amateur golf is, is a bunch of match play events. It's something for me that I have always enjoyed playing one on one.

Q. We hear so much in majors about adversity and facing adversity, knowing you're going to have a bad hole or two or three, can you talk about that concept and your ability to overcome, bounce back from adversity during a major?

TIGER WOODS: Any time you play a major championship, you're always going to have a little bad stretch. You know, hopefully your bad stretch is only a couple of holes. The major championships, a bad stretch can knock you out of a tournament. But also, a good stretch can get you right back into a tournament more so than any other tournament. You've got to look at both sides to it.

So even if I had a bad stretch where I made bogey three holes in a row, I know if I just make a couple birdies, all of a sudden, hey, I'm right back in it. Whereas at a normal Tour event, I make three bogeys in a row, I'd better make six in a row going to get myself back up to where I need to be because everyone else is making birdies.

It's a totally different mind set, but one that you've got to look at it more as a marathon and certainly not a sprint.

Q. And I know you're excited about the opening of your Learning Center on Friday, and I just wanted to talk to Greg a little bit about this, what are the plans, and I don't want to jump the gun too much, but do you have plans to do more of these learning centers around the country, because it looks like this one is going to be a big success.

TIGER WOODS: Well, we would love to, but we want to focus right now on getting this off and running and doing it correctly the first time; so therefore we have a business plan and a blueprint to expand in the future. But if we don't get it right here, there's no sense in going ahead in the future and trying to build more of these around the country or around the world. We've got to get this right first.

So we're putting all of our attention and all of our focus for the next couple of years, certainly, into this Learning Center.

Q. Hearing your feelings and the way you felt the prior years, what good omen does this two win start of yours bode for the upcoming season, the fact that you've won twice now so early?

TIGER WOODS: Well, any time you can win, it's always going to give you confidence. Granted, I got into two playoffs, but, hey, a win is a win. Any time you can win, it's always going to give you a boost of confidence. And especially coming off of last year. I had a wonderful year last year and then basically continued that type of success early into this year. It makes it really exciting for the future.

Q. As a follow up, a lot of the game's greatest players have been at their best in their 30s, and obviously your success in your 20s is well documented. What expectations and hope do you have for your 30s? Can it actually be better than the last decade?

TIGER WOODS: I hope so. That's my intent. I'm going to continue working hard and being diligent about trying to get better each and every year. Hopefully I can make that happen.

You know, it's always going to be difficult to win tournaments, and as the fields get deeper and better, you're going to have to get better and be more efficient and post lower scores. So that's always a challenge to try and win to get better and improve. Hopefully I can do that over the next decade.

Q. Is hunger the biggest factor now for you these days?

TIGER WOODS: That's never a question.

Q. You've won your first Tour event obviously this year, but how bothersome is it to you, if at all, that you've done so despite an inconsistency off the tee? You started out tracking in the footsteps of Jack Nicklaus but it seems to me you've ended up closer to Seve Ballesteros literally in his prime in that regard; is that fair?

TIGER WOODS: Well, as I've gotten longer; it's become harder to hit fairways. I am probably 30 yards longer than what I was when I first came out here. The balls that I used to hit just marginally in the rough are now in the trees. It's become more and more difficult to try and hit fairways just because the dispersion pattern obviously increases.

And also another thing that I'm doing is I feel better about my driving now and my golf swing. I'm actually hitting driver more than I used to. I used to hit a lot of 2 irons and 3 woods. So with that in mind, I have missed more fairways, but I've had a better feeling off the tees than I did in the past, but that doesn't always equate to numbers.

Q. How do you think that will hopefully apply to Augusta, will you, therefore, hit more drivers, do you think this time at Augusta? And in any case, this inconsistency that you've explained there, I presume it doesn't really matter because you're getting so close to greens each time?

TIGER WOODS: Not necessarily. I think at Augusta, I've always hit driver off of 7, so that's not going to change. And I may have to hit driver on 4 now, the par 3 is so long (Laughing).

But no, on a serious note, in the future, it all depends on what the conditions are. If certain holes play downwind, you don't need driver, just hit 3 wood and put it down there.

As we've noticed, the golf course is becoming so much longer now, that you're forced to have to hit driver to have the same clubs that you used to hit. We look at No. 11 now at Augusta, it's now 505 yards. That was inconceivable in '97 when I won that you would ever have a par 4 that was over 500 yards. But in a short span of time, here we are.

Q. I wanted to ask you about moving to new technology, getting more distance, is that a reflection of what was happening on Tour the last couple of years versus what you could see was going to happen with guys like J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson coming up?

TIGER WOODS: Well, the guys I know I didn't use technology, the advances in technology for a couple of years. Guys were sacrificing some of the spins that they would normally have for distance, and they have gone longer and lighter in shafts, bigger, hotter heads and obviously higher launching and less spinning golf balls. All of that equates to a lot more yardage.

What I've always told the guys at Nike is that I've always wanted a golf ball that would spin around the greens. So can I actually hit the ball further? Yeah, there's no doubt about that, if I went to the golf balls that other guys are using. I decided to use technology in the driver only and not necessarily the golf ball. I've got more of an overall performing golf ball than some of the other guys because my ball does spin a little bit more, but I am able to hit it further than the old golf balls I used to play.

I know that the game is advancing. Look at what Bubba and J.B. are doing, and that's what's coming. I've always said this. Guys are going to become bigger, they are going to become stronger, they are more athletic. Look at every sport across the board. You look at the NBA before in the 80s, you might have two guys on a team that may play above the rim. Well, you've got four or five guys on a team in college that play above the rim. The game in our sport has changed and has changed in every sport.

Q. Talking to Steve Jones in San Diego, he said the guys are so long now, so many guys that are long that they don't even care if they are in the rough because they are so close to the green now. Is the nature of the game changing substantively, and is that good or bad?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that's just the nature of the game now. You have to be long in order to have, I think, an easier time scoring.

But then again, as I said earlier, in one of the gentleman's earlier questions, your dispersion pattern becomes wider. Yeah, you're hitting further, you may be hitting it close to the green, but a shot that would be, say, 290 yards which was a good drive five, ten years ago, now hitting it 330, that same shot on that same line is now in the trees instead of being in the fairway.

And that's a big difference. I think that guys who are hitting the ball further have to try and become more accurate at the same time, and there's more of a premium of trying to become more accurate at that length because you have to, you have no choice. But then again, if your misses are going to be further off line and you're going to miss more fairways, your stats are not going to look as good.

Q. When you stood over that little shot on 16, what was your dominating what was your thought process? What was the one thing that you kept telling yourself?

TIGER WOODS: Just try and get the ball inside Chris. My whole game plan on the shot was to if I got the ball inside of Chris, therefore, if he made his putt for birdie, I could make my putt for par, and he would have momentum going into 17 and 18; but so will I after making a great up and down.

But if I hit the ball outside of Chris and I miss my putt and he makes his putt, not only does he have a two shot swing, but he has all of the momentum in the world going into the last two holes. I just want to be in a position that I can answer Chris' birdie if he made birdie.

Q. And last year was the first year the playoff started on 18, it worked out well for you, are you in favor of 18 as being the first playoff hole?

TIGER WOODS: It was strange because we didn't know that when we walked in. They told us right there in the hut that we were going to 18. Chris and I looked at each other like, "we're not going down 10?" They were doing it for the first time. Chris and I, neither one of us knew. Totally different game plan, because I was trying to get myself mentally to hit a nice, high draw off of 10 with a 3 wood, and now I've got to hit a high cut off of 18 with a 3 wood.

Q. You touched on some of the changes Augusta National has undergone since you started playing there in the mid 90s, but I would like to know in your opinion what is the biggest single change you've seen in the course, and what's the biggest change in the game that you've seen since you've turned pro?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think at Augusta, just the sheer length of the holes. It wasn't that long ago that the golf course was right around 7,000, if not, a little bit shorter than 7,000. Now we're up over 7,400. That's been a huge change, as well as the rough or, sorry, first cut.

Yeah, that's something that in my time of watching the Masters, I've never seen that, and to be a part of a change like that, it's certainly eye opening for all of us as players, because we are always used to seeing Augusta with fairway everywhere and a premium on the second shots. But now the premium is on the tee shots as well as second shots and you're trying to test your overall game, and, you know, I think it's a positive change.

Q. What's the biggest change in the game you've seen since you've turned pro in '96, the biggest single change?

TIGER WOODS: I'd have to say the guys overall, not only technology in the golf balls and clubs, but I think the guys overall. They are now in shape, or trying to get in shape. The golf is progressing more towards an athletic sport rather than some guys that would just go out there, not stretch and go out there and try and play and try to shoot something in the 60s. That's no longer the case. Guys are more fit, they are stronger, more flexible, they are bigger, got more speed, and I think certainly that's attributed to some of the distance numbers that you're seeing now.

Q. Last year on 17, you had hit a tee shot that went pretty far wide right and it took a little while to figure out the distance. Some people have argued now with the laser rangefinders being allowed that you might have been able to figure out that distance a lot quicker and just get on with it, so to speak. Just curious to know what your thoughts are on the laser rangefinders and whether you think they should be allowed on the PGA TOUR?

TIGER WOODS: No. Never, ever should be allowed on the PGA TOUR. I think that playing the game, since it's you and your caddie, and I think it puts the onus on the caddie to be efficient; you're out there as a team together.

The laser advantage, the laser takes away an advantage of a caddie doing his homework and understanding what to do out there. I don't think that's right.

I believe in what Stevie does, and certainly he's done some great things for me, and I think that rangefinder would certainly I think make up for some of the guys being a little bit lazier out there.

Q. Going back to the length we've seen at the course now, you've had success with the 5 wood recently, but some players have talked about it at Augusta, especially on maybe No. 11, to put a hybrid in play. Have you experimented with any hybrids, and do you think that will be a pretty important club this year at Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: I think it will be for some of the guys, yeah. I've tried it. I just haven't found a club that I've hit the proper distance and the proper trajectory that I would like to see. I mean, it took me, geez, about a year to find a 5 wood that I liked. So it may take some time to find another hybrid that could go in the bag.

I still feel like I can still hit my 3 iron up in the air pretty high and on some golf courses, I can put the 2 iron back in the bag and hit it up in the air. But 5 wood has certainly allowed me to have shots that I've never had before.

Q. We've talked about distance, we've touched on Augusta, where does all of this end, or is there an end to this distance situation?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I mean, even if you don't do anything with the golf ball or the clubs and keep everything right now where it's at, guys are still going to get longer. Don't forget, guys are going to get bigger, stronger and be more athletic over the next generations, so that's never going to end. It's just a matter of how much are you going to extrapolate from where we are now. I think that's we don't know that answer.

Q. Does it concern you?

TIGER WOODS: No, it doesn't concern me. I think that's the nature of all sports. You're going to have advances and you're going to have advances in technology, but also advances in the human body. Guys are bigger, stronger, faster with added technology; hence, you're going to hit it further. Even average golfers have picked up a lot of distance.

GLENN GREENSPAN: Tiger, thank you very much and we appreciate your time.

End of FastScripts.

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