Confident Woods talks Augusta

Here is the transcript from Tiger Woods’ news conference from Augusta National this afternoon.

Q. The last few months or last year, did you have any doubts that you would come back to the level that you are now?
TIGER WOODS: If you asked me prior to the Match Play, a lot of it was uncertain. I didn’t know how I was going to respond. I didn’t know how I was going to recover from day to day. I felt that the Match Play was a big turning point for me physically, but my game started coming around at Doral. I started hitting the ball better and better each day and got my feel for the game each day.
I went out and just basically played at Bay Hill, which was nice. Those two tournaments prior to that allowed me to do that.
All depends on when you asked me. If you asked me prior to the Match Play, a lot of it was uncertain, but if you asked me during the week of Doral, I would have to say no.

Q. Last year, this day, this week, they were talking to you about — you had commented that you thought the Grand Slam was easily within reason, I think was the context of the quote. How do you see that playing out this year, given the coming off the injury and the venues and sort of if you could give us your thoughts on the four Majors and how you see that.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I know I can do it. I’ve done it. It’s hard for me to sit here and tell you that it can’t be done, because I’ve done it before.
It’s just a matter of winning the right four at the right time. So hopefully it will start this week for me.

Q. You’ve been so close the last couple of years, is there any part of your game that could be improved or that could maybe put you over the edge?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, Tom, the last couple of years, my putting has been streaky here. I get on rolls where I make on everything and I get on rolls where I didn’t make anything. Consequently, I didn’t win the tournament. You have to be very consistent around this golf course.
Especially now; there are not too many birdie opportunities. It’s not like how it used to be. So given that, you’ve just got to be obviously very patient, and hit the ball well, but make the putts when you have the opportunities, because they are not going to come as frequent as they used to.

Q. As you’re standing over that putt at Bay Hill, there was probably not anyone in the world watching who thought you were going to miss it; did you have that same belief when you were standing over that putt, and if so, how much does that actually help you make it?
TIGER WOODS: Well, you have to believe in yourself if you are going to make those putts. I was just trying to get the speed and the line correct, and make sure I released the blade, and I just kept telling myself that. If anything, overrelease it, which pushes it up the hill a little more, which gives it a chance to break it in the hole.
The whole idea was to make sure I had my pace right. That’s something that you have to do in order to make putts, and it does not change just because it’s the last hole of a tournament versus the first hole of a tournament.

Q. Since Bay Hill, what have you been working on, and like, specifically, long game? Short game?
TIGER WOODS: It’s been exactly the same. My practice sessions have not changed since I’ve come back and started playing. I touched on every part of my game.
From tee-to-green — touched on everything. You have to. This tournament, it forces you to do that, and you know, you have to make sure you’re precise with everything you do.

Q. You mentioned a few weeks ago at Doral about some of the excitement that’s been missing around here the last few years. From what you’ve seen of what they have done, the little minor changes they have done to the course this year, do you think they have addressed some of that, or do they need to do more?
TIGER WOODS: It’s hard to say, because obviously the conditions right now, this looks more like a British Open press conference than it does a Masters press conference. (Laughter).
It’s hard to say. But when it warms up a little bit, the ball starts travelling a little bit. Hopefully we’ll see a little bit of a difference. It’s only ten yards here and there, but that ten yards, such as on No. 1, is a lot; a ball hitting into the hill versus a ball carrying on to the crest and releasing, two totally different scenarios.
We will see how it plays out. Hopefully the weather will be good enough where the scores will be a little bit lower. But the last two years, we have had terrible weather conditions. So granted, they moved the tee up a little bit here and there over the last couple of years, but the weather hasn’t allowed us to shoot really low numbers. This weather this week is going to be interesting again. We’ll see how it plays out.

Q. Can you describe your practice schedule this week? Because it seems like you’ve given up on dawn patrol?
TIGER WOODS: Well, yesterday, thunderstorms were coming in, so it made no sense to get out here. I wanted to practice and work on things that I wanted to work on in relative peace, and that’s one of the reasons why I came out so late.
Today, not going to go out there and play today, because I’m really not going to learn a whole lot; conditions we are not going to face all week.
Just touch on my game, make sure my skills are good, and tomorrow maybe play nine and get some rest.

Q. And secondly, you seem to have had a revolving door, really, of rivals since you first showed up. How would you define or describe the rivalry with Mickelson?
TIGER WOODS: Well, he and I have certainly competed head-to-head quite a few times, and primarily, it’s been in the States. I would say the person I’ve gone head-to-head against most has been Ernie, and that has been all over the world, because he plays all over the world, and I play here and there.
But Phil and I certainly have battled Majors. We have battled in TOUR events. We have both been successful on both sides.

Q. You’re generally, I don’t think, perceived as a guy that has a lot of confidence problems, but what did Bay Hill do for you; just can you quantify what it did for you leading into this Major because it seemed like another step along the way for you.
TIGER WOODS: I really wanted to get into contention and feel the rush again on the back nine. I was not in it at Doral; I was on the periphery. I played my way into a backdoor Top-10, so I was not really in it.
This past week at Bay Hill was great, to feel that, and just to see how my body would react again. It’s been a while, and a lot of uncertainty over the months upon months of rehab, and it felt great to hit shots. Like the shot I hit on 18, that felt great, to be able to take something off that little 7-iron and be able to control the flight like that. That’s something that I’ve been missing.

Q. There are three teenagers in the field this week, and recently Camilo and Anthony Kim have done really well. How likely do you feel that one of these real young guys is going to emerge over the next, say, decade and be a real serious challenger of yours? And who do you think it might be?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think there’s quite a few guys. Obviously Camilo and Anthony had great years last year, and Rory just won in Dubai.
It’s just a matter of time before these guys gain experience in major championships. That’s something that they have not done yet. Once you start getting a taste of it, start getting a feel for it, it’s just a matter of time. But you look at their games, they certainly have the talent. It’s just a matter of gaining the experience.

Q. I would guess that walking and hitting shots off of this kind of terrain might put a little different kind of stress on the knee. Is there any trepidation coming in here?
TIGER WOODS: No. After playing at the Match Play and coming off those tee boxes when my knee was basically untested, had no problem recovering from day-to-day. We won’t have a problem here.

Q. Did you play with Greg Norman yesterday and what’s it like having him back at the Masters?
TIGER WOODS: I don’t know if you considered it playing with him. I played 10 through 14 and cut over to 18 and joined him and Adam for one hole.
But you know, it’s great to have Greg back here. He’s been such a fixture here at the Masters for so many years, and he’s been playing well. I mean, he played well obviously at the British Open last year to get in, but he’s been playing a lot better than he has. I think he’s been playing more, too, which helps. He’s starting to get his feel back for the game. Hopefully he has a great week.

Q. You’ve said many times that you preferred the margin of ’97 here and 2000 in Pebble obviously. But your signature moments the last year or two have been different, Torrey, fighting through that and winning, and the high drama at Bay Hill. How much do you think that speaks to the competition now versus ten years ago? And can you articulate what that rush is like for you in a tight tournament coming down to the last few holes.
TIGER WOODS: If you just look at the landscape of the TOUR in ’96 when I came out here versus here in 2009, there are a lot more guys with a chance to win each and every week, and that’s going to be the case as time goes on. The fields are getting deeper. The equipment, technology, guys’ margins of miss-hits are not going as far off-line.
The game is getting closer and closer together. It just makes it harder to win. But these close events are certainly interesting. They are a rush, there’s no doubt. But I certainly prefer ’97 and 2000. Those are a little easier on the system. (Smiling).

Q. You kind of rolled your eyes when he said 15 years or 15 Masters. Do you remember what it felt like the first time you drove in here, and can you kind of juxtapose that with what it feels like 15 years later, driving in?
TIGER WOODS: When I first came here, I came in here late, late night from a college event, Georgia Tech was hosting an event, I came in here real late at nine,11 o’clock, whatever it was. Magnolia Lane, you could barely see it, it was dark.
It is amazing over the years that I’ve been here, just the feelings that you get when you come. It’s just a great feeling to be back, and to know that I’m going to be coming back. It’s an even better feeling. I just remember being here as an amateur and being able to play practice rounds with so many great champions; guys telling me where to hit it, what angles you want to have.
But over the years, that’s changed. You don’t have those angles anymore because you don’t get those locations because the golf course has changed. But it is fun to reflect on those times.

Q. Now you’re the old man that players ask.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, isn’t that amazing.

Q. Just thought I would remind you.
TIGER WOODS: I’m not teeing off on the first hole yet to start this thing. (Laughter).

Q. Rory McIlroy, a talented young Irishman, is making his debut here this week. How well do you know him and what advice would you give him?
TIGER WOODS: Rory has been playing well. He’s won in Dubai. He’s certainly got the game to play well, not just in Europe, but here in the United States and all over the world. He has the talent.
It’s just a matter of, as I said earlier, just gaining the experience of just playing more big events. And that will come over time. There’s no hurry. There’s no rush. He certainly shows the talent. It’s just a matter of time before he really starts winning a lot of tournaments.

Q. So much has happened since the last time you were in a major championship by any definition; given all that, you’ve touched on this before; what is the biggest question mark you carry in here, for you?
TIGER WOODS: For me? How the golf course is going to be playing.

Q. That’s it?
TIGER WOODS: Mmm.

Q. You take pride and you obviously measure your year in major championships; how important is maintaining the No. 1 ranking to you?
TIGER WOODS: That is a product of winning golf tournaments. Wherever you play, you have high finishes, you have consistent finishes, you win golf tournaments all over the world and that will take care of itself. The No. 1 ranking takes care of itself just by winning golf tournaments. That’s the only way you can really get it; you just have to continue to win.

Q. There’s a 39-year-old amateur from Mississippi playing in this tournament. He’s a gas station owner. He’s never played but one other PGA tournament in his life. If you would be so kind — his name is Steve Wilson — what would you say to him about playing in the Masters?
TIGER WOODS: Hit it straight, hit it on the green and make putts. (Laughter) All be good.

Q. Would you describe, please, the atmosphere that surrounds you when you make your way into press rooms like this and coming through the back way and getting out, and just how much of it you hear, how much of it you don’t, what that part of your workday is like?
TIGER WOODS: I think you just become accustomed to it. It’s been like this for a while. To be honest with you, Jennifer, it is what it is. This tournament more so than any other, it’s easier to prepare for. Augusta National does just an amazing job of letting the pros get ready, and it’s been certainly one of my favorite places to play.

Q. Following up on the Steve Wilson question, he owns gas stations and you could probably buy the oil companies (laughter). Can you in any way, relate to a guy like that coming here, his life dream to play in the Tournament?
TIGER WOODS: You know, different ages. Obviously when I first played here, I was 19 and he was 39. But still, it was a lifelong goal for me to play in the Masters, and I think for every kid who plays golf, you want to play here and you want to play in this Tournament.
I just remember teeing off on the first hole it, was just the coolest thing in the world. You look back and all of the shots, you remember all of the different shots you’ve seen on TV, and I’m sure he’s done the same thing. You see guys that you’ve idolized and you’ve looked up to on the practice tee, on the putting green, walking around here; it’s just an amazing experience.
Whether you’re 19 or 39 or whatever have you, it doesn’t matter, it’s just the greatest thing to experience this for the first time.

Q. Are you going to partake in the Par 3 event tomorrow and if so, will your daughter be on the bag?
TIGER WOODS: I am not, and no. (Laughter).

Q. Today Padraig Harrington was asked about whether he considers you a rivalry and he said he doesn’t consider anybody a rival and he just focuses on himself. Have you ever seen anyone as a rival? And as a follow-up to that, has your perception of Padraig Harrington changed any as a result of him winning two additional majors?
TIGER WOODS: I think the whole idea is to handle your own business and on Sunday, see where you are. You don’t look at it and say, I have to beat this one person to win the golf tournament, because there are a whole host of people that you have to beat.
He’s going about it the right way. And as far as my perception of Paddy, no. We all know he’s been a wonderful player. It’s just a matter of Paddy winning his first Major, you knew that was going to happen, and he has the game to win more. And lo and behold, he wins two last year.

Q. I am from Korea, and there are Korean members here, K.J. Choi, Danny Lee, Anthony Kim, how do you feel about these guys?
TIGER WOODS: I think all of those guys have just amazing talent. They are young guys and it’s just a matter of — I’ve only seen Danny hit a couple of shots. Anthony and K.J., obviously I’ve known for years. It’s just a matter of them going out there and enjoying and playing well. But it’s great to see the game of golf growing and having more foreign players in this event.

Q. You said you know you can do it because you’ve done it, but what do you put Paddy’s chances?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it’s not going to be easy. I remember trying to do it myself, and it’s hard. It’s hard to peak four straight times. There’s a lot of factors that go into it: Having your game come together, playing well at the right time, and on top of that, getting the right breaks. People don’t realize, just one gust of wind here or there is a shot that you don’t think it could happen, cost you the tournament on Thursday, but sometimes it does.

Q. I would like to know, how good for the popularity of golf, like in countries like Italy, it’s not too extremely popular to mix with other sport champions as you do for example in the Gillette commercial. You became a friend of Roger Federer, and now there is Fabio Cannavaro. Did you know him before, and what is your knowledge?
TIGER WOODS: I did not know him personally but I knew of him. Getting to watch Thierry (Henry) play and following soccer more, obviously because my wife is Swedish, we watch a lot of soccer.
It’s been — unfortunately golf has turned in this slowdown. The expansion of golf has slowed down a little bit. But in some parts of the world, it is actually growing, so hopefully in Italy that will happen and golf will grow there. It’s an amazing sport and hopefully people will get a chance to play and stick with it.

Q. Given the change in the golf course, the weather we’ve had in recent years, can you or anybody else charge to victory like Arnie or Jack or the things that we remember?
TIGER WOODS: Well, not in the last couple of years, with the not weather and the course setup. It’s harder to do that. The golf course is so much longer and so much more difficult; you just don’t have — as I was saying earlier, you don’t have the same amount of birdie opportunities that you used to have. It’s just not the same. The scores reflect it.

Q. Just curious, with you coming off knee surgery and Smoltz coming off shoulder surgery what, the negotiations on the first tee were like, and are his pockets still as deep as they have ever been?
TIGER WOODS: Yes. (Laughter) I’ve played a few times with Smoltzy, and I’ve gotten him and he’s gotten me.

Q. He’s gotten you?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, he’s gotten me. It’s about negotiating. He plays well. I believe he shot 72 or 73 at Isleworth, so not too bad.
I remember the time that I shot 63 and lost money. (Laughter) He shot 66 that day. The guy can play.

Q. With the backdrop of the nine-month layoff and having only played three tournaments, can you assess your chances here? Do you expect to win?
TIGER WOODS: Always.

Q. That’s it?
TIGER WOODS: Sorry. (Laughter).

Q. From that stretch from, say, the Open in 2006 all the way through to 2008, how close are you to playing like you did then?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I played in pieces the last two tournaments like that. I hit it like I did at Doral, but if I could putt like I did at Bay Hill, put those two together, I would have what I had during that stretch.

Q. For the teenagers like McIlroy who are playing here for the first time, they have played in major events, but not here; is it a totally different thing they will be experiencing on their insides once they tee off here?
TIGER WOODS: It is different. It is different. As much as you try and make it feel like another tournament, it is a little bit different, because it is your first major championship. It is an experience that you will always remember. It’s something that no one can ever take away from you.

Q. You mentioned you missed the rush; during the time off, did you find anything to replace it? Did you find a hobby?
TIGER WOODS: No, my rush every day was trying to get in the gym and improve, and improve on what I did the day before. That was my competitiveness coming out. I had to apply it differently, and I could not get better at golf, because one, I couldn’t touch a club, and I couldn’t practice.
So the one thing I could do was try to get better physically, and certainly that was a challenge. Anyone that’s ever gone through an ACL reconstruction, it wasn’t fun. A lot of low points and low days, but you’ve got to fight through it. That was the challenge.
Fighting through that and trying to keep up with Sam was a very tough task.

Q. Given the changes to the course, is it not as fun to play the course as it was before to go after birdies and to go after things more? Is it just not the same experience?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it’s certainly not the same experience, no. It’s funner in a different way. You know, when I first played here, good drives would leave you short irons. Balls, you could hit tee shots that were pretty far off-line, but you did it on purpose. I remember Raymond telling me to hit the ball as far right as you possibly can at 9 so you can fire at the green. Now you have to hug the trees because there’s no stand of trees down the right-hand side.
The golf course has changed quite a bit. You know, your strategy has changed. You don’t go out there looking to shoot super-low rounds because they are not out there anymore, especially with these conditions that we have the last two years. If it calms down, and I’m sure you can probably shoot one of those good numbers, but there’s going to be a different way of doing it.
You know, the golf course is just — we didn’t have rough when I first came here. They used to cut the fairways downgrain, and now they cut it into the grain, and then they went half and half. Inside the doglegs were all downgrain so it forced you to try to hug the corner to get more distance out of it and if you bailed out you would be paying the price of getting the ball to the green. Over the year, the course has changed, but it’s just a different score.

Q. You had to rehab your knee and train your body to play golf. Did you have to re train your mind that you can win tournaments, especially Majors?
TIGER WOODS: No. It was nice to be able to finally get to do the things Hank was trying to get me to do. I wasn’t able to do that for a number of years, because I didn’t have a leg to do that on. It was finally nice to hit the shots we were trying to hit. I can hit them now.

Q. But the mind part?
TIGER WOODS: The mind part, no. You enter a tournament to win.

Q. A follow-up on the clutch putting earlier; how do you explain all of those must-make putts that you like, like the ones at Bay Hill, and how much do you think willing the ball into the hole is involved?
TIGER WOODS: I don’t know. I don’t know if, I don’t know if I have telekinesis, but it sure would be nice, some of the shots I’ve hit before to keep them from going into the water, but that hasn’t happened.
I think it’s just the moment. Your concentration, your energy, everything comes down to one moment. It’s been a crescendo. For our sport, it takes four days to get to that moment. For some reason, putts have gone in.
Certainly, I have missed putts when I’ve had the chance to win a tournament or force a playoff. But I’ve also made my share, as well.

Q. When is the last time you watched the final round of ’97, and what were your thoughts going through?
TIGER WOODS: Last time I watched it, I think probably around my birthday this year. I think the GOLF CHANNEL had some kind of birthday week or, I don’t know, birthday day, something like that. It was on there. It was kind of funny to obviously watch my swing then versus now.
But the coolest thing in the world is obviously seeing my dad there, which I don’t have that anymore. So every time I see that, I get a little weak thinking about that moment, because it was a very important moment in my life to have him there, because obviously everyone knows the story, him having a heart attack the year before and him having the heart surgery and the doctor telling him not to go. But he came and gave me a putting lesson, and I putted well that week.

Q. Is that like a great movie where you stop when you’re flipping through?
TIGER WOODS: Sometimes. Sometimes I look back on it thinking, I wish I could swing that hard again. (Laughter).

Q. Is it possible that because you’ve missed the last two, you approach this Major championship with more zest, or is it, in fact, the same? You always seem to approach Major championships with zest.
TIGER WOODS: It feels the same. It feels like a day at any other Major championship. Only difference is it’s been a longer duration between Majors for me.
But the preparation, the feeling that I have right now, it feels the same. I was surprised at how fast I got the feeling, it came back to me at the Match Play, like Stevie says, “It’s just like we haven’t left. It feels the same.”
“Yeah, it feels good, doesn’t it.” Coming here, it feels the same, just like any other Major championship.

Q. Did you watch the two Majors that you were absent from, pay any attention to what was going on?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I watched the tail end of both of them, yes.

Q. During the time you were absent, did you take stock of how much is left in your career?
TIGER WOODS: Say that again?

Q. Did you take stock in your future in golf, and how much time you have left?
TIGER WOODS: No. No, I didn’t look at it that way, no. I just looked at the fact that it would have been nice to be able to actually make a swing like those guys were making at the time.
At the time I was on the couch elevated with ice.

Q. Is there anywhere else in America, at least on the TOUR, where the course and the weather work together to make it such a challenge?
TIGER WOODS: You know, you would say a British Open, but certainly not like this. You get any kind of wind around this place, it is absolutely amazing.
For instance, yesterday, I went out and played in the evening. We’re on 12 and we are putting on the right tee box from the bag, front left pin, and it’s only 160 yards or whatever it is. At the time it was just a perfect 7-iron. Then a gust of wind came up and I said, “Stevie, it’s 6-iron?”
He said, “Yeah, it’s a 6-iron.”
I said, “I think it’s a chip five.”
And then wind switched downwind, “I think it’s an 8-iron now.”
I said, “I can’t hit eight.” And then all of the sudden it switched back, and he said, “I think it’s a six now.” That’s how the nature of this golf course is so different from anywhere else; how can you go from a 5-iron to an 8-iron to a 6-iron all in a matter of seconds?
I remember playing here with Davis on the same hole, and the pin was back right. Davis hit 5-iron in the back bushes and I hit a 5-iron that just landed a foot in the front bunker, two different gusts of wind.

Q. You spoke a couple of weeks ago about being able to hit shots again with your new knee like a draw; how important is that on this golf course?
TIGER WOODS: It was probably more important probably a few years ago to actually turn the ball, because now you’re hitting the ball to the corner now. It’s hard to actually get the ball to go around the corner. The golf course is so much longer.
But it’s still advantageous to be able to turn the ball over at will, and you have to be able to hit that shot. You can’t just fade it on all the holes. You have to be able to turn the ball over, certain holes like 13 and 10, you just have to turn the ball over.

Q. You just mentioned your father who is not here anymore, and you have two kids now. Can you explain in what way these moments changed your life as a golfer and as a person?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know, golf has certainly evolved in my life. Having kids is the most important thing in your life. It puts a totally different perspective on your life, and making sure that you raise your kids as best you possibly can.
You know, when you hit a bad shot and you come home, and you have a bad round, it puts it in perspective, which you have kids. It’s really not that bad. You know, no matter how bad your day was on the course, it’s not that bad when you come home.

Q. This is for Rob. How is it you always seem to draw the interview with Tiger?
ROB JOHNSTON: I cannot comment on Club policy. (Laughter).
ROB JOHNSTON: One more question?

Q. You’re only 12 years removed from your first win; did you think you would get this close to Jack’s record this quickly?
TIGER WOODS: No, I would never have foreseen myself winning this many Championships this soon. But I’m not going to say it’s a bad thing, either.
ROB JOHNSTON: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much. Tiger, thank you very much very much for taking the time and we will be will you on every shot in your 15th appearance at Augusta.

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About Jill Painter

Jill Painter is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles News Group, covering everything from the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Kings, golf and all human interest stories in sports.