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March 18, 2003

Tiger Woods


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you, Tiger for joining us for a few minutes.

We're going to begin here with the Mark McCormack Award. We'd like to congratulate Tiger for winning his fifth Mark H. McCormack Award. It is an award presented to the person who holds the No. 1 position on the World Golf Rankings and it is the 187th week this week.

I think Tiger would like to make a couple of comments and we'll go into some questions on Bay Hill.

TIGER WOODS: Well, thank you, Joan.

It's been a great few years and it's actually kind of sad that Mark is not here to be with us for this because he always gives me a hard time, needles me every year. I hope he's able to pull out of it and get a full recovery somehow.

JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Tiger, you are looking for your fourth consecutive victory here and to tie a record 73 years old. Would you please make a couple of comments and we'll go into some questions.

TIGER WOODS: Looking forward it. The golf course is playing a lot different than it was last year. It's a lot slower, much softer and it's going to be an interesting test this week. I think the guys are going to shoot some pretty good numbers.

Q. Is it fair?

TIGER WOODS: Is it more fair than it was last year. Yeah, it's more fair. But unfortunately because it's so soft, the greens are on the slow side, you're going to see these guys tear it apart again.

I think they might have overreacted but also they have had a lot of rain, too, in the last few days that probably contributed to the problem.

Q. More fair for whom?

TIGER WOODS: For most of the guys who don't hit the ball up in the air. I think the guys who hit the ball a little bit on the flat side are going to definitely have a better chance this year than they had last year.

Q. Does the softer course then lessen your advantage over the other players, do you think?

TIGER WOODS: It does to some extent, especially to the front pins.

But then again, you know what, the ball is not bouncing if you land it short of the green, just like it was last year. If you land it short it's still going to skip but at least it will start grabbing. Last year it didn't think about grabbing until it got 20 feet or so.

This year, I've hit some shots with some 6-irons. I hit a 6-iron over on 17 downwind to a front pin and I landed that only skipped about ten feet where last year I was in the back bunker.

So, it is a big difference compared to what we had last year.

Q. Do you think Ernie would be a better player if he didn't travel so much?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know, because he's been doing it his entire career, he really has. He's played, except for the year that he had his first child, I think he's played 30-plus events around the world every year and he's been doing it since he was about 20 or so.

I think that's what he's accustomed to. I don't think him slowing -- I think if he played a more limited schedule I think it might even hurt him because he's accustomed to playing. He plays his way into shape; whereas, some other guys like to practice their way into shape.

Q. I was talking to Jack a few minutes ago and he said that for him and a lot of people might not be thinking about golf this week with what's going on. Your thoughts: Does golf take a back seat or could it be a good distraction?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's a great distraction for us as players, no doubt about that. With a lot of things that are going on, I think it is a wonderful distraction for us and hopefully we can provide some type of entertainment for people who decide to tune in and watch this get their minds freed up from what's been going on.

Q. Any concerns about safety, security?

TIGER WOODS: No. The TOUR has done a fantastic job over the years. This week is no exception. They have done another great job.

Q. With Ernie playing as well as he is right now, do you look forward to that type of challenge or are do you like coming to a tournament where you feel like you're going to run away with it?

TIGER WOODS: You never think like that. (Laughing).

You just play. You don't really care who is in the field until the back nine on Sunday because that's when you're in contention; that's when you want to know who you're playing against. The first few days, you're just trying to get yourself into position to win a tournament. Whether it's Ernie or whomever is in the field, you just go out there and just play and figure it out on Sunday afternoon.

Q. Is he playing as good as you've seen him play?

TIGER WOODS: I think so. I've seen him hit the ball like this before, but I have not seen him roll the ball as consistently day-in and day-out as he has been. Yes, he's having a lot of opportunities for putts but you've still got to make them. You're not driving every single par 4 to shoot the scores you shoot.

Q. Is he a different player from when you guys were paired that 36-hole round here the year he won it in '98? He was talking about how you guys were just mashing it by him; he said he felt like Corey Pavin, actually.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, Davis and I were hitting pretty long then. He is definitely a better, I think more overall player now than he was then. He's longer but I think his swing is much more on plane than it was then.

Because you remember back in his younger days the club tended to get pretty laid off and if not just a touch long. I think he's done a fantastic job of getting it into more of a playable position day-in, day-out. I think that you're seeing the results of it now.

Q. If somebody had won a tournament three years in a row, going for a fourth, in your opinion would the odds say that this is too much, the audience has got to stop somewhere? You've won three times it's obvious this course is made for you.

TIGER WOODS: You know, that's a tough one for me to answer. I like my chances because I like to compete.

This week, put it this way, I've done it three different ways. This year, I won, I hit the ball pretty good. The second year I slopped it all over the place and made absolutely everything. Last year I plodded my way along and just did played real smart. I didn't do anything great and I just plodded my way along.

So I've done it three different ways. When I'm out there on the golf course, even today, it makes you feel pretty good that you've done it different ways. It's not like I've come out here three straight years hitting absolutely perfectly for 12 straight rounds. I've made my share of mistakes and still been able to win and that definitely brings confidence, even if you're playing well or playing bad, you still have a pretty good feeling.

Q. When you were battling your bad knee last year, how was it not a miracle that your swing didn't get messed up?

TIGER WOODS: Oh, it did. It did. I had to make conversations throughout the year and even on a daily basis, just trying to get into a playing position where I could actually hit golf shots. That particular day on the range, I would find out whether I could hit a draw today or not. "No, I can't do that." "Today I can draw it."

So every day on the range, I took my practice sessions, actually I should say my warm-up sessions more seriously than I normally do just because I had to. I had to find out what my knee would give me that day.

Some days it didn't give me a whole lot and I had to play an extremely conservative round of golf because it didn't give me anything.

Q. Is it fun for you to see Arnold and Jack on the same course again?

TIGER WOODS: You know, it is. I think it's great. I think it's great that they are competing and playing. I haven't seen the pairings but I hope they are playing together. I think it will be fun for the fans. I know that this is Arnold's 50th consecutive year, I think it is, playing a TOUR event. I think that's what it is. I think it's 50 straight years but I'm not positive.

I know Jack is trying to find out whether or not he's physically ready to compete at Augusta, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun for all of us to see, especially if they are paired together, I think that would be great.

Q. If they are paired together who should be the third?

TIGER WOODS: Not me. (Laughter.)

Q. Have you thought about this world issue, obviously there's been a cancellation of a PGA TOUR event before, and the ground swell was pretty quick from Tuesday to Wednesday when they decided to cancel it, have you talked to the TOUR at all?

TIGER WOODS: I have not. I've come over from my house at Isleworth, played a practice round, Pro-Am today and I haven't seen anybody. Joan is the first person I've seen part of the TOUR all day.

Q. If we did go to war in 48 hours or whatever it may be, would it surprise you if they decided to cancel it?

TIGER WOODS: Actually, I think it would surprise me if they did. There must be a really good reason for them to do it if they did.

Q. This may be unfair, but you're an American icon, you're a symbol of this country, do you feel that you need to make your views known about an impending war involving your country?


Q. And why not, if I may?

TIGER WOODS: Because I'm not a politician where I have a say-so and a vote and a ruling position where I can make a difference. The people back in Congress are doing the best they can to make the right decision. And I'm not there. I'm a golfer.

Q. But movie stars routinely --

TIGER WOODS: And that's their prerogative. My prerogative is to go out there and compete. That's what I try and do. And people ask me for my opinion just because I get the ball in the hole fewer times than most guys do.

Q. Did you watch Bush last night, his speech?

TIGER WOODS: I watched a little bit of it, yeah.

Q. What did you think?

TIGER WOODS: Pretty interesting. He was pretty assertive. I like that.

Q. Do you ever listen to the Dixie Chicks?

TIGER WOODS: On the radio.

What kind of question is that? (Laughter.)

Q. Are you surprised at how fast you came out of the box this year, you know you say you go into every tournament and you want to win it, you plan on winning it, but are you surprised at how quickly you're recovered?

TIGER WOODS: I was surprised that I was able to get into competitive flow as fast as I did. Mainly because I wasn't able to prepare like I normally do for an event. I wasn't able to hit the golf balls and get the practice sessions and reps in that I normally do for an event. I know what I need to do to get for an event and I wane able to do that because of obviously the physical limitations and doctors orders.

So it was -- it took me probably two rounds or so before I got back into the competitive flow where I actually felt like, yeah, I'm back to playing again. Lucky enough, I've kept myself in the tournament and didn't shoot myself out of the tournament. First day I could have easily shot myself out of it. Lucky, I was pretty lucky got put other the North Course instead of the South Course, because if I played on the South Course, I probably would have been down the road on Friday.

Q. What's more rewarding, when you have to battle or you just come out and you're on fire from the get-go-go?

TIGER WOODS: What do you think? (Laughing).

Q. Don't you feel like you've accomplished more when you've had to battle back?

TIGER WOODS: Why? If it's easier to win by 20, wouldn't you want to win by 20?

Q. I've read recently where it was hinted that you would not mind playing with Charles Howell in a future team event, would you elaborate on that?

TIGER WOODS: I think we have comparable games. Charles hits the ball further than I do and definitely hits his irons longer than I do.

So I think we were both young enough and I think we both have the same mentality to how we play, how we approach the game of golf. I think it would just be a lot of fun to play with Charles. I've played with him in a couple practice rounds and needle him all the time, and I thoroughly enjoy playing with him. I think it would be a lot of fun if we do get paired together.

Q. Charles said you just got a Hummer.


Q. Doesn't strike me as your type of vehicle?

TIGER WOODS: It's a GM vehicle. (Smiling).

Q. Did the fact that you were able to come back without your usual reps change your mind at all about how you'll prepare in the future?

TIGER WOODS: I would like to prepare like I normally do because I know that works.

Granted, this was a different circumstance and it took a lot more out of me mentally when I tee it up and I played. A lot of it was just a lot of doubt whether or not -- whether this leg hold up. Will it actually start -- by making an active swing on it, will it actually start aching again, will it not become an ache into a pain, injure it again, a lot of different things.

I know how I like to prepare for an event and it's a lot more satisfying for me to prepare that way because at least I know mentally I can rest assured when I go into the event, I'm ready. When I went into San Diego, I didn't really know if I was ready or not because I didn't get enough reps in.

Q. When you were hurt did you have -- a lot of times with athletes, there's a depression that comes in and it takes them a while to get over those things --

TIGER WOODS: What comes in?

Q. Depression. Did that ever happen to you during last year?

TIGER WOODS: No. None of those things came into it.

I definitely felt more tired after every event because of the mental fatigue of trying to block out pain; also trying to compete at the same time. That certainly took a lot out of me. Plus I didn't sleep well at night because it would be aching so much that it would wake me up a lot of times.

Q. Do you think your injury has made you a better golfer?

TIGER WOODS: Having it repaired now is making me a better golfer because I'll be able to make the move I know I can make, very similar to how I played in 2000 and most of 2001. I'm able to make that type of move at the ball again.

Last year was a lot of it was done by smoke and mirrors. Chipped the ball great, putted good. I didn't really do -- I wasn't able to play my game. I had to hit a lot of 3-woods and 2-irons and stuff like that just to get the ball in play because I wasn't able to physically swing a driver.

And that's frustrating, knowing that I have that ability to hit the ball out there far enough to have an advantage on the golf course and now I've got to come back and play even shorter than most of the guys do on TOUR that had to get the ball in play with a 2-iron. So that physical limitation, I didn't like it very much. I certainly enjoy being able to make a move at it again like I used to.

Q. This is a little off the wall --

TIGER WOODS: Really? From you?

Q. Wait till you hear this one. What kind of a crazy world is it when this KK guy who is going to be at Augusta lists you as his favorite player?

TIGER WOODS: Ironic. That's as ironic as it gets. (Laughter.)

Q. You told us about your mind set towards Ernie Els this week and we've talked about your rehab. If you could think back to early January when you were on the bike working your knee and he was stacking up the cash; did that get your attention?

TIGER WOODS: I think it got everyone's attention.

I knew deep down in my heart that I could not compete against him at that moment, because I wasn't physically ready; I could barely hit a 7-iron. That actually was probably a good thing it. Probably would have been different if I was 100% and I decided to take all that time off and then decided to come back and say, "Well, why did I take that much time off and be that far behind."

Knowing the fact that I physically could not compete, even against any of these guys on TOUR, that definitely put my mind more at ease from that standpoint. But competitively, I want to get back out there. I wanted to compete. I wanted to mix it up with these boys. That's fun for me. I missed that.

Q. Considering that you're healthy and the results you've had so far, when is the last time you felt this comfortable about your game?

TIGER WOODS: Probably the beginning of 2001 where I felt as good as I do now physically and I'm able to swing the club without any kind of minor alterations because of physical problems.

Yeah, that's a good feeling to be at that level again where I can go ahead and make -- hit any shot that I know that I can hit without having any kind of physical ramifications.

Q. Do you consider what you had with Ernie on the golf course a rivalry or is it something else?

TIGER WOODS: I guess you might be able to say we are at the beginning stages of it. I do have to say, though, that if there's any player in the world that I've competed against more down the stretch in a tournament, it's him, yeah. And that's not just on our TOUR, it's around the world. We've gone at it more times down the stretch, I think, than I have with any other player.

Q. Is that good, too? Do you enjoy that?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I thoroughly enjoy it. I think we both enjoy it. I think we both enjoy having that type of -- first of all, we have a wonderful rapport with one another. So even if one another loses, it's still one of your friends beat you. But still, don't want one of your buddies beating you, either.

Q. Isn't that worse?

TIGER WOODS: Sometimes it can be. Especially when Mark beat me a couple of times in '98. He rubbed it in pretty good.

Q. We asked Ernie about the gap closing between you at No. 1 and everybody else competing the charge because you're doing so well, and now that you're back some of that talk has gone away, do you think any of the gap was closed at that time and do you feel a need to gap it out again?

TIGER WOODS: No, think he we are all trying to get a little bit better. But I think technology has really played a big part in closing the competition with all of us, especially some of the shorter hitters.

I used to, when I first came out here, I was one of the longer hitters even in 2000, if not the longest. That's no longer the case anymore. There are a number of guy guys who hit it out there past me repeatedly. So I think technology has definitely changed.

I know I don't take advantage of technology fully. Obviously I play with a short driver and a steel shaft and a shallow-face driver so I've limited myself to what I can do. But I'd much rather control the ball and get the ball in play.

Q. As the Augusta issue has evolved, do you think it's reached a point where it's hurting the game or have we passed that point somewhere along the line?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's become not just about a golf tournament anymore. I think that's where it's gotten to now. It used to be the first major of the year and everyone looked forward to that. Now it's not that anymore; it's for a number of reasons. But it's certainly -- it would be great if it would all go away and we could just play a golf tournament again but that's not the reality of it. This year when we all get there, you guys, as well as the players, it's going to be interesting for all of us to see what happens.

Q. Do you think it's damaged some of the strides that you have helped make in the game in terms of access, inclusion of minorities?

TIGER WOODS: I think probably to a small extent, yes. But I think it's brought more of an awareness to it that wasn't there before. I think that's the important thing about it is that we are all aware that it still happens in our sport, and trying to rectify that doesn't happen overnight. Obviously, that's being proven.

Q. You said it's not just about a golf tournament anymore; do you think it's tarnished the Masters no matter what happens the rest of the way?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's tarnished it this year. If you go back to when the rules were being changed, when Charlie was qualifying for the Masters, back in the 60s and 70s, if you would have said that would tarnish the Masters, but did it ever? I don't think it did and I don't think this will, either. I think eventually it will go away and it will be resolved and Augusta and the Masters will be what it is.

Q. Maybe ten years from now, let's say you win this Masters, ten years from now will it be regarded as the year you won three in a row or the year of the membership controversy?

TIGER WOODS: I would love to have that problem. (Laughter.)

End of FastScripts....

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