December 11, 2007

Tiger Is Ready To Pick Up The Sticks

At his pre-tournament press conference for the Target World Challenge Woods fields questions and artfully deflects the inappropriate

You were mistaken if you thought Woods would be a bit slow after a two-month layoff.

You were mistaken if you thought Woods would be a bit slow after a two-month layoff.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.--Tiger Woods has been away from golf for more than two months, so it wouldn't have been surprising if he was rusty Tuesday afternoon when he met reporters for a pre-tournament press conference at the Target World Challenge.

He wasn't.

When a woman with a British accent, accompanied by a TV crew, asked some questions about her boyfriend and sex, Woods sidestepped them with ease.

After that, Woods talked about everything from Golf Digest's U.S. Open contest to fatherhood to his assessment of his 2007 season.

Q. You've probably heard that Golf Digest and the USGA is, kind of, following up on something you said at the U.S. Open last year when you were asked how a 10-handicapper would do on a U.S. Open course, and they're going to have three celebrity amateurs and another amateur play just a week or so before you guys tee it up there. What do you think of the idea?

Woods: I think it's an interesting idea. I think they should play the Monday after the tournament. That's when it's the hardest. A week or two before is not so bad. It's just amazing how the grass seems to grow in the last couple weeks for USGA events. No, I mean, they'll finally get an understanding of how difficult it is and how narrow the fairways are and generally how fast it is, the overall golf course. The USGA loves to have it quick and demanding.

I think what separates--what amateurs don't really probably truly understand is the pin locations, how difficult they can be. At Oakmont--I've played Augusta all these years. I've never seen pins that difficult, and they were actually being nice to us. I think that's the difference is that at say Pinehurst and at Oakmont, you felt you could easily putt the ball off greens. You don't find that feeling very often in tournaments.

Q: Having been off competitively for so long, what's your biggest concern? And also, what's the coolest thing you've found out about the young one?

Woods: Well, I think being off for this long, any time you take time off, just getting back into the competitive flow, just the rhythm of playing a round of golf, it's totally different when you play at home. You can have all the money games you want, you can play with everything on the line, but it's just a little bit different when you get out here and play a tournament.

Hopefully I'll find it fairly soon. Hopefully it doesn't take five, six, seven, eight holes to find it. Hopefully I'll find it in the first two holes and get rolling from there. But as far as having time off and being at home with Elin and Sam, it's been incredible to see how fast they change, how fast they grow, just the little things. You appreciate the little things, and I think that's the most important thing.

Q. You talked about fatherhood and the changes, and they come so quickly. What have you noticed? What's been the most fun? Is she talking at all or . . .

Woods: No, not yet. She's only five and a half months.

Q. The recognition factor I would assume, and what do you do at home? Just goofing around or what?

Woods: Yeah, I think the greatest thing is no matter how rough a night it is, sleep-wise, just seeing her smile in the morning, you forget everything. You hear that from a lot of parents, but until you actually get to experience it yourself and actually feel it, then you truly do appreciate it.

Q. People often talk about how fatherhood changes them as a person. I just wonder if you could tell us how you think becoming a father may have changed you as a person and possibly long-term as a player?

Woods: Well, me as a person, individually, it's very simple. You start appreciating the little things in life. I've said this before, after my father passed away, I think probably every kid feels the same way, that you feel like you didn't spend enough time with him. I felt that way about my dad. I'd call him all the time and I was there as much as I could be, but you always feel this sense of you didn't really capture each and every day with him.

I wanted to feel that with my daughter. I wanted to feel and appreciate that even sleepless nights and the difficulties sometimes when she gets sick. You still appreciate those days because you don't know when it's ever going to end. I always thought my dad would live forever. I thought he'd be immortal, you know? Obviously we all know that's not the case. I wanted to be sure that I truly appreciate those days with my daughter.

Q. If you look at just your performance on the course, you have one fewer win this year, one less major, and yet it looked like it was a pretty good year if not better than the year before. I wonder if you could just square with that, why the numbers would show last year . . .

Woods: Yeah, I think it was a better year this year, even though I didn't quite--I had a chance probably--a great chance to win three of the four majors this year. I finished second in two of them. I was just a few shots away from basically doing what I did in 2000, the number of seconds I had, it wasn't that far away. What did I finish, second to Phil, and then the two major championships. If I get those done, get those squared away, people would probably be comparing it to 2000 if not better.

Q. When you do come close like you did at Oakmont and other situations like that, I think you said that you'll go back and reassess what you did that week. What was that process like and what did you find out from it?

Woods: Frustrating because I thought I played well enough to win the championship, and that's one of the most frustrating things. I didn't capitalize on my opportunities, like at Augusta I did not finish the last two holes well. What did I play them, like 3 over or 5 over par in three days--no, 4 over par in two days. I bogeyed 17 and 18 both Friday and Saturday. You can't do that and expect to win a major championship.

And then what I did on Saturday at the Open, not capitalizing on the best ball-striking round I had in any of the four majors, and I wind up with--what did I shoot, even par or 1 under, something like that? That was a day I could have taken the lead and separated myself a little bit, and I didn't do that.

Q. I was just wondering, given your business interests in Dubai, whether you could ever envision maybe a couple Tour stops and maybe picking up your European Tour card for '09 since they're adding that big tournament on the back end.

Woods: That's a good question. I've contemplated that since basically '99 and since I started going over to Europe and playing over there in Europe. I started playing in Germany, I believe, in '99. I've always been one or two short of keeping my status over there, and there's really no way I can keep up the commitment level that I have by playing that much golf on both sides of the continent and all the things that I have to deal with at a venue. It tends to wear you out a little bit.

Q. Switching gears a little bit to talk about the foundation and the learning center and stuff. Now that you're more involved in that with the passing of your father and looking at a new learning center in D.C. and other areas like that, how much does golf actually take part for you? I mean, how much of a factor does that define you by with all the other things that are going on? Is golf just a venue for other things?

Woods: Well, golf has always been a vehicle so I could touch others and help kids and make sure that they get to feel and experience the things that--the lucky opportunities that I've had in my life. I've had mentors in my life, I've had people take an interest in me when I could have easily gone down the wrong path, but they've made sure I've stayed on the straight and narrow. Not everyone has that type of support. We're here to do that. What golf allows me to do is to do that more on a global scale, there's no doubt, because obviously the recognizability that I've had now, we're able to get more sponsors, more people contributing more dollars, hence we can do more things to help more people.

Q. Some of the programs you have at the learning center, does that sort of help bring out the inner geek in you?

Woods: Well, I've always been a little bit nerdy, I guess. That's one of the reasons I guess I went to Stanford. I enjoy the challenge of academics, always have. I enjoy that side of it, and I enjoy analyzing and thinking through the process of trying to figure things out. If you look at the subjects that we offer at the learning center, actually it's not necessarily me, it's actually the kids, they create the curriculum, and it's our responsibility to go ahead and make sure that they are able to be exposed to everything within that subject matter. That's been a task for us but also a fun task, and the people at our learning center, the staff, has been absolutely incredible. From Kathy on down, they've done just a fantastic job of seeing to that.

Q. Your schedule in early '08, do you plan on playing at Riviera this year?

Woods: I haven't looked at my schedule yet for next year. As soon as this tournament is over, within the next week after this tournament, I'll figure out what my schedule will be for my run up to Augusta and making sure I get all the tournaments in that I need to get ready and prepare and make sure everything is on schedule for that.

Q. A lot of child stars come to L.A. and those of us who have been around a long time have seen them, and almost all of them end up burning out; very rare for a child star in this environment who has succeeded. If you were eight years old today would it be a lot harder for you given today's--harder for you to keep grounded as you seem to have been grounded?

Woods: Well, I think it's all do you love what you do. If you love what you do, then you're not going to experience burnout. I can understand if you're forced to do something you really don't want to do and you don't really have--you may be good at it but you just don't like doing it, it may be a means to an end.

But for all the people out there who have been extremely successful, they've always loved what they do, from athletes to whatever their job description is. I think if you really do have a passion for it, then you don't ever get burned out.

Q. Playing by and large with a field of opponents that you're friendly with, does that make it more difficult for you to be competitive?

Woods: No.

Q. In the new Golf Digest you were quoted as saying if you ruled the game you guys would be playing persimmon and balata. Can you talk about that, and can you speak to whether you think there would be any interest in a tournament once a year where you guys actually use that kind of equipment?

Woods: Well, I think that any time a player likes to shape a golf ball, understands how to shape a golf ball or bend--who can consistently hit the ball flush, you're going to want the ball to move more and the equipment to be less forgiving. It puts a premium on quality. There's a lot of guys that just go out there and just hit it, they mis-hit it, but the golf balls and the club heads, they're so forgiving that the ball goes the same distance.

Like my old persimmon driver that I grew up with, it's only maybe 15 yards behind my driver now. If I mis-hit it, it was like hitting a 3-iron out there. It goes nowhere. That's the biggest difference. You have to hit the ball flush, perfectly struck shots. It goes just about the same distance.

You know, if you--this is a good story. I actually played the ninth hole at St. Andrews in 2000 with a gutta-percha ball and with my old golf ball, which was the first Nike ball I put out there, and I drove the green with my ball. And then with the gutta-percha ball I hit a driver and a 5-iron and just barely rolled it to the middle of the green. Big difference in technology. It would be fun to play a tournament that way, there's no doubt.

Q. Your season form going into the PGA Championship through the FedEx Cup playoffs, culminating in the Tour Championship, your control of the ball, where does that run rank compared to others in your career?

Woods: There's no doubt, right up there. I hit the ball very well, and made the putts, which was nice. I really felt like I had control of the golf ball. I could hit any shot I felt like I wanted to hit. Granted, I did have some bad days in there, but I managed to shoot 70 or 69 on those bad days through course management or proper misses.

You know, I think if you look at my career as a whole, when I go on these runs where I won some tournaments in a row, it's those bad rounds that I've turned from 73 or 74 into 70 or 69 or 71. I don't shoot myself out of the event. This year at the end of the year I didn't shoot myself out of any event.

Q. Following that, though, we spent years here at this tournament asking about your seasons and wondering if--2000 has always been the benchmark. In your eyes is it still the benchmark? And if it's not, when did that go away?

Woods: Well, I think this year was very close to doing that. That's why I was just four shots away.

A couple years ago I think I was, what, four shots, maybe five shots away from winning all four? I've been pretty close the last few years of eclipsing what I did in 2000 as far as consistency. I won nine times, 12 around the world and three majors that year.

Q. What was the benchmark, just the three majors?

Woods: The three majors and the fact that I was also able to win 12 times around the world. That's not too bad. But this year I won--well, over 50 percent of my tournaments, so that's not bad, either.

Q. How familiar are you with a website that's been around for a few years, TigerWoodsisGod.com, which claims to be the First Church of Tiger Woods? What's your reaction to the basic premise?

Woods: I've heard of it, there's no doubt, I've heard of it. I've never been online to take a look at it. I think just the name itself, I really don't want to take a look at it.

Q. So are you denying your divinity? Are you officially denying your divinity? Woods: I am so far away from that. [Laughter]

Q. Mastery of the swing, in terms of being able to correct things during rounds and not having to have as much of a hands-on thing with Hank day after day as you did a couple years ago?

Woods: Well, I think I still need to have an extra pair of eyes there, but as far as understanding what you need to do -- trust is the biggest thing. I was telling Henry that I can always fix it on the golf course, but to know that was a 100 percent fix, and I knew that was going to work, that's a different deal.

Now I do have an understanding that what I do feel, what the shot shape tells me, what the automatic fix is, and I know it's the right fix. I don't have to worry about it. That's huge because you're not always going to have your best stuff and no one is going to help you inside the ropes to figure it out. You just have to figure it out yourself on the fly. That's what makes our game so interesting. It's fluid, it's dynamic, it's always changing and it's always evolving, and you always have to make adjustments on the fly.

Q. I know in the past on vacation and in the off-season you've gone skiing and done some other things. I don't know if you were able to get out and pick up another hobby or do anything this off-season, or what was the most fun thing away from golf you were able to do? Second part, I know you went to the Mayweather fight. Can you talk about the sport of boxing and how much you know about it?

Woods: Well, basically I haven't done anything this off-season. I really haven't skied yet. My wife has been, I haven't been. As far as fighting, I've always enjoyed it. I went to Mayweather/de la Hoya, and this one here was absolutely incredible. The atmosphere, I've never seen anything like it, all the singing.

We went to one of the other cards right before that, right before the main event, and everyone was still singing. And when what's obviously happening in the ring, it was over. They were all into it, and just the people who were there to watch from a celebrity standpoint are famous athletes. It was pretty amazing to see that this many people came out to watch this fight. Some are pretty big fight fans. I know that Denzel and Bruce Willis are huge fight fans, obviously Barkley behind me, he goes to every fight.

Q. You've always talked about the tremendous amount of knowledge you have acquired from your father. Is there one thing that stands out that's helping you to become a better parent that you learned from him?

Woods: Probably not yet because I haven't really been able to teach. My father was instinctively a teacher. He got the most joy out of helping others. He always felt that he always appreciated how good life could be, actually to teach and help others, and that's actually how he lived his life. He loved it. He always tried to help somebody each and every day he lived. He pretty much did that.

That's something I've done but I haven't been able to do that with Sam yet. She's not quite old enough for me to talk to and to teach her these life lessons, and I think that's going to be the fun part is actually being able to -- my dad turned the simplest little things into lifelong lessons that I will never forget. I can't wait to experience that with Sam.

Q. I just wanted to talk a little bit about because of how well you played this year, your sense of anticipation going into next year, especially with the U.S. Open being at Torrey. Do you look at next year and go, yeah, this sets up . . .

Woods: You know, I really am excited. I missed--because of my age, I missed one at Riviera, and I was lucky enough to be able to play the one at Pebble. These are places that I've played frequently. Torrey since junior golf, "Riv" since junior college and Pebble since my college days. For me to come back to So-Cal and play a major championship here, that's as good as it gets for me. Being at home and playing in a major championship, it's probably very similar to some of the other players who grew up and fights like Charles Howell does every year at Augusta, or Vaughn Taylor, they grew up there.

So for me to have one at So-Cal at Torrey where I've played there, I've watched old--what was it, the Andy Williams event there? Yeah, when I was a little kid my dad drove me down there and we watched. Yeah, I just remember how far Andy Bean used to hit the ball [Laughter]. Yeah, it's pretty interesting.