Planet Golf — 09 May 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Tiger: Still breaking old habits

JOHN BUSH: We’d like to welcome Tiger Woods into the interview room. He’s making his 15th start at The Players Championship, and he won this tournament in 2001.

Welcome back. If we can just get some opening comments from you.

TIGER WOODS: Thank you. It’s great to be back. Just got here, so don’t ask me about the golf course. Looking forward to getting out there and seeing how I was playing.

This is a great event, and I think all the players really enjoy playing here in this event, and I’m curious to see how the golf course is playing.

Q. Obviously the last two go-arounds have been bad memories for you because of the physical issues, and obviously you won here back in 2001. Does the course suit you? On the surface the last number of years it would look like it doesn’t go well for you for a number of issues. Can you talk about how the course suits you?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it’s either I’ve done really well or I haven’t. The years– either I’ve been right there in contention with a chance or I haven’t. I think that’s the nature of this golf course, though.

When you’re off on this golf course you’re going to get penalized pretty severely, but when you’re on, this golf course seems pretty easy because all the balls tend to funnel towards flags. If you’re hitting the golf ball correctly, it can seem pretty easy. Just like when Greg shot 24-under par here or something like that. You can kind of feed off these slopes and get it in there tight.

It’s different now that it’s Bermuda. It’s playing a little bit quicker. So I’m curious to see what the spring has done to it, see if that’s going to make any difference at all.

Q. The Masters and Quail Hollow, not your best. What do you do to get yourself back in it, and how much of a dent in the confidence is it when like a lot of little shots are lost around the greens, for instance, and wedges not being sharp? Is that really your focus?

TIGER WOODS: Well, the focus was to try and get into– I told Bob this, about getting my posture correctly. I tend to creep back into old patterns, and that’s what’s kind of happened.

We’re working on that. And I had– unfortunately I had a lot of time on the weekend to work on my game, so I was able to do that, and really looking forward to getting out there today and seeing the work I put in.

Q. How much of the short game stuff is related to the full swing, chips and pitches? Are you somehow incorporating that into the posture problem that you’re having with the full swing?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely, and it’s– I’m not quite 100 percent comfortable with it. I’ve had to make some tweaks and some little bit of changes, but actually it’s been very good.

Augusta was nice to have happen, actually, in the big scheme of things. Just like it was at Dubai a couple of years ago when I couldn’t cut the golf ball. You know, I felt like I could have won that golf tournament, but not being able to cut it cost me, what, eight or nine shots that week.

And Augusta was one of those things where it was just pretty glaring, some of the things I needed to work on. So get back to work and try and get ready for this week.

Q. What was your formula for holding leads on Sunday going into Sunday holding the lead? Was it routine? Did you play better than anybody else that day, because a lot of guys are having trouble holding leads this year.

TIGER WOODS: Well, one, I think it’s experience. I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments not just at the professional level but starting back in junior golf, and I think that helps, because I’ve done it different ways. And I think that comfort of experience comes into play.

Even when I was a rookie on Tour and I was there in contention with a chance to win a couple times, I felt very comfortable there. I think that’s just from being there enough times as a kid.

But as far as just going out there and just playing, it’s very simple. If you have the lead and you shoot the same score as they do, they can’t win. It’s not real complicated. But it’s trying to do that with all the pressure and everyone looking at you and everyone breathing down your neck, and some guys have got momentum going into the back nine. They get off to quick starts and they can post low numbers; that’s when it becomes a little more complicated.

Q. Going back to your previous swing changes, how much did the sort of old motor patterns creep in as you went from one change to another, and then secondly, why is this one– has this one been sort of harder to implement than the other changes and why has that been the case?

TIGER WOODS: No, it took years, literally years, to get out of them.

As I said, I went for probably almost two years without doing much with Butch before it kicked in; and about a year and a half with Hank. And with Sean it’s been a couple years now, maybe a year and a half, somewhere around there, almost two years.

But I’ve been hurt for a majority of that, so I haven’t been able to put in the time. In essence, it takes time. It takes time, takes a lot of reps.

The fruits have been pretty good on the back side of it, and I think so far I’ve shown some nice consistency, and I’m still working.

Q. Has this one been harder to implement than the others maybe?

TIGER WOODS: No, it’s just been easier. I just haven’t had the time because obviously the injuries I’ve had.

Q. From a distance there’s so much of a rush to proclaim that you’ve reverted to championship form, whatever it may be, from a distance. What did you think when you drove home from Bay Hill, and how would you compare that feeling to where you are right now?

TIGER WOODS: It felt good, what I had done at Bay Hill, there’s no doubt. I had been creeping up towards that.

Unfortunately the last two tournaments I’ve played in weren’t that great. So, no big deal. We’ll just continue working and try and put it together this week.

Q. You’re obviously asked a lot about your swing. You answer these questions, there’s a lot more scrutiny with you, of course, a lot more people analyzing you. Given that, though, what do you make of the thoughts that are out there that maybe you’ve gotten too mechanical or perhaps you’re thinking too much trying to get through all this? Do you see any of that if you step away from it? Is that a possibility?

TIGER WOODS: Well, certainly it is when you’re making changes.

Guys, I’ve done this before. I’ve been through this. Actually a lot of you guys actually lived it with me, went through those periods where I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. I had some pretty good runs after that, and this is no different.

It takes a little bit of time, and I keep building, and things eventually come around to where they feel natural and efficient. I think that’s probably the most important word is that you get out there and you feel efficient in what you’re doing.

Q. If Augusta is a second-shot golf course, I’m wondering, what would this be one? What would be maybe one or two things a player, you, anybody needs to do well here on a Pete Dye target, target, target type course to have a shot on Sunday? What are the exponents you need to have?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think on this particular golf course you have to hit the ball well. There’s no getting around it; you just have to hit the golf ball well.

And I think this course has shown over the years that it brings everyone together because of Pete’s angles that he creates. Everyone is hitting to the same spots, and we’re all playing to the same areas; just what club we choose to get there to the same spots.

Some of Pete’s other golf courses are a little bit different, and this one in particular, you have to hit the ball well; and we’re all playing to the same spots and then obviously to the same spots on the greens.

You really can’t get down there on some of the holes with big drives or anything like that. There’s really no room to do that because of his angles.

Q. Does the best player win here, the guy who played the best?

TIGER WOODS: That’s what it looks like, yeah, over the years. You just can’t fake it on this golf course. That’s the biggest thing that we’ve learned over the years. You have to just play well, period.

Q. Following upon what Bob just asked, is there any thoughts in your head at all of at some time in the future, you might just fly solo and get back to not thinking and play golf as you did as a kid without instructors and just enjoying it, playing feel golf? And secondly, is there an enjoyment to be had from the struggle you’re having to win one month, then you miss a cut? Is there joy in the toil?

TIGER WOODS: A joy? No, I don’t enjoy missing cuts.

As far as getting back to when I was a kid and not having instructors, I’ve always had one. I’ve had my dad, I had Rudy, had John, Butch, Hank and now Sean. So I don’t really understand your question.

Q. The question is, do you see any merit perhaps in just doing it yourself.

TIGER WOODS: I’ve always had a coach, so it’s– that’s why I have a hard time understanding your question of getting back to something. I’ve always done this.

Q. Today on a conference call, Brandel Chamblee suggested that you should go back to Butch; that that would be the way to best get to where you want to be. Do you take offense at a suggestion like that, or do you simply chalk it up to media analysts just searching for a theory as to why you’re not at the form that you want to be?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I can understand that everyone has an opinion, and he’s entitled to his. But he’s no longer playing anymore, so, so be it.

Q. How would you rate 17 as a strategic golf hole and as a good golf hole, if it is? And secondly, when is the most nervous you’ve been standing on that tee? Was there one situation going back?

TIGER WOODS: I have always said this: I think 17 is a great hole. But not the 17th. I think it’s a perfect 8th hole or something like that.

But I just– as a great finishing hole, I’m not in that opinion, but I think the collection of holes, 16th, 17th and 18th is the most dramatic that I think we play out here on Tour.

As far as my most nervous, there was probably two times. Number one, obviously in the Am when that ball was in the air, that second round. I wasn’t trying to get it there.

And number two is we played one year when it was just absolutely freezing here, and standing on that tee to a back left pin, you think it’s no big deal, it’s a back left pin. But the wind is coming in off the left, and if it comes through that chute– you have the grandstand, you have the trees, and it comes through that little chute and you can see the flag just bending. I don’t feel comfortable from 155, 160 yards hitting a little chip 5-iron, so that’s a hard shot, especially when there’s no bail-out.

But I hit a little chip 5-iron on the green and was happy to make my par.

Q. Just to follow up, as the 17th hole, can you follow up a little bit? Is it because there’s not much to make up afterwards, or why not as a 17th hole?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I just think that it’s– I understand the premise behind it. It’s dramatic. But I just think that as a par-3, I just don’t think it should be that, as the 17th. Great 8th hole or maybe something early in the back nine. But maybe I’m more of a traditionalist in that regard.

Q. Last week at Quail Hollow you said that you were comfortable when you’re uncomfortable, or essentially that. Could you explain what you meant by that? And also, so we’d maybe understand better, you talked about alignment and setup problems. Can you let us know exactly what you’re thinking so we can understand it better?

TIGER WOODS: Well, see, when I get into what Sean wants me to do with my old setup where I’m comfortable, then I can hit an array of shots, because obviously my grip has changed, my posture and how I move through the golf ball is completely different. So that’s where I get into the problems.

Now, if I get completely uncomfortable and put myself in a position where it feels just awful, I hit it pure. So there’s where I’m developing in the swing.

It was the same way at Bay Hill where I was just committed to just feeling awful over the ball, and I hit it great. But that’s the movement pattern. That’s what’s different. I’ve been through it with Butch, I’ve been through it with Hank, and you get through stages like this, go through periods like this. We’ve all done it. It’s just I’m in it right now.

Q. When you’re swinging left as much as you do, are you comfortable then or are you trying to find something–

TIGER WOODS: Well, trying to swing left from my old posture just doesn’t work, and with this grip it just doesn’t work.

Q. A year ago you limped out of that same trailer there. What is the difference between you today and the guy who limped out of there a year ago?

TIGER WOODS: I had a few issues going on physically there. I was wondering whether I should have played, and because this is a big event I tried to tee it up, and it didn’t work out.

But it’s nice to actually be healthy again and do all my training and everything I need to do to get ready to play. That’s something that I could not do at the time.

Q. Phil went into the Hall of Fame last night. You’re about four years away from being eligible. How do you feel about that, going in in the middle of your career, and do you think that’s something that maybe should be– the age limit should be raised?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I’m of the same breath as Phil in this regard; that I don’t want to be on that ballot at that age. I still have work to do. I still want to play and compete. And I think that maybe a later age would be more appropriate.

But the problem is in our sport, what is the appropriate age? Guys play until they’re 70 out here. I mean, seriously, Arnold played tournaments well into his 70s.

What is the appropriate age, because usually it’s five years after you retire. Most golfers don’t actually retire, and then if you go on to the Senior Tour, some guys still come back and play a few events here and there; like Tom Pernice is out here just about full-time playing events. Fred has come back; Jay has come back; a number of guys come back and play a handful of events; so what is appropriate?

But I am of the same mindset that it should be later, not at 40.

Q. Two questions: Number one, speaking of 17, as a player, would you rather see a three-hole playoff here at the end of this tournament, rather than a single-hole playoff? And number two, can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being with a teacher now that has a group of players versus just Hank and you being alone 24/7?

TIGER WOODS: Okay. That would be a great system, the playoff, going to three holes here. It would be exciting. It would be really exciting. I think that everyone would get a pretty big kick out of it.

But it would have to be– just like what the PGA adopted, obviously stroke, and then into a sudden death. I think that would be a pretty cool climax to it. Also then it gets into TV and what time; NBC is going to get involved in that one. So what time do you need to do it at.

Q. You could shorten your interview.

TIGER WOODS: I know. Perfect. I’d like that. (Laughter.)

As far as being with just Hank, myself and Hank, I think it was myself and Mark, he had two guys. And then when I was with Butch, he had a bunch of guys. We’d go to tournaments and sometimes he’d have seven, eight guys, and it was always tough getting a little bit of time from him at some of the majors, because obviously he’d watch you for a half hour here and there because he still had so many other guys that he was working with.

So yeah, I’ve been through that before and I understand that. But I like to do all my work before I get here and just go play. So that’s kind of what we’re trying to do now.

Q. Along the lines of what Bob was talking about a little while ago, with people scrutinizing your swing, there’s a lot of people that scrutinize your psyche, as well, for example, Nick Faldo was on that conference call that was referred to earlier today, and he’s said it on the air a few times recently, that it feels like you’ve lost your self-belief. I was wondering, do you have to fight that? And kind of where is your confidence when things go sideways like it’s gone the last couple tournaments and you’re trying to fight the swing issues?

TIGER WOODS: I always find it interesting since they’re not in my head. They must have some kind of superpower I don’t know about.

Q. Just as a follow-up on that–

TIGER WOODS: About the superpowers? (Laughter.)

Q. No, but are you fighting confidence issues when you play so well at Bay Hill, and then the last couple outings out you haven’t played as well?

TIGER WOODS: I think if you’re a player, we’ve all gone through this. You’re not going to play well every week. There are times when I have felt awful over a golf ball and I’ve still somehow won a golf tournament. It doesn’t mean I feel comfortable but just somehow figured out a way.

Q. With injuries over the years, if you had to do it over again, would you perhaps back off any on your physical training? Would you back off any on the length of time you practice? And do you think a lot of it, especially left knee, was just the fact that you played an awful lot of golf since you were two years old? Or have these injuries, each and every one of them, been an occurrence independent of each other?

TIGER WOODS: I think I would have swung differently, absolutely. If I would have known that in order to prolong my knee where it felt great every day, then I wouldn’t have swung the club the way I did for a number of years.

Q. For a long time obviously you were a dominant No.1, and since you left that position, that No.1 spot has bounced around a lot. A couple questions on that. Is it good for the game in your opinion that it has been swapped around? And do you watch where you are in the ranking, and how much of a motivator is it for you to get back to that No.1 position?

TIGER WOODS: As far as, do I think it’s good for the game? I liked it when I was up there. That’s just me. (Laughter.) Sorry, Todd, I can’t really help you any more on that one.

Q. When you were working on the transition with your swing with Butch and with Hank, did you go through what seemed to be such a marked period where you hit the ball so great on the range, and then for some reason it stays on the range like it’s been the last couple weeks?

TIGER WOODS: Oh, yeah, I went through years of that, absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve said it before: I’ve been Ranger Rick before; go out there and stripe it every shot you want, and then you do nothing out there.

And eventually you stripe it on the range and then you do it at home at your home course, and then you bring it eventually to tournament sites, and eventually to major championships on the back nine on Sunday. There’s a process to it, at least in my career there has been. It’s worked out okay so far.

Q. Where are you kind of with this one? Doing it on the range, are you doing it on the home course, too?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. I’ve got two wins in four months, so not too bad.

Q. You talked about Augusta and Dubai a year ago as being tournaments where it not so much exposed you, but showed you that there was still work to do. What was it about those two tournaments, two tournaments that have nothing really in common on their face. What was it about the timing or the circumstances or whatever that became whatever of a teaching moment?

TIGER WOODS: Well, there’s events that does happen, that does occur, and those two tournaments, I basically singled it out for you guys here today.

At Dubai, I was really proficient at one– I almost won the World Challenge that year against Graeme. But I could only move it one way. I was only drawing the golf ball. I was flushing the ball, but I was only drawing it.

Then we got into right-to-left winds at Dubai where it was howling, but who’s going to throw it 40 yards right of the green and shape it in there?

So it showed me where I needed to work, and Sean and I went back to the range and worked on that, and eventually it started coming around, but then unfortunately I got hurt.

Then at the Masters the same thing. At Bay Hill I was able to get through it and make myself get into the posture I needed to get into, and I hit it great. And then when I got comfortable at Augusta, I reverted back to my old stuff, and it didn’t work out.

Q. It almost seems like in both situations you were back, or it was proclaimed to be you were back, the win at Bay Hill, and at Sherwood as you mentioned, you lost in a playoff but you were right there. There was a feeling, oh, wow, he’s back. You know where you are in all this, but are you ever tempted to fall into that belief?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it’s a process, and I’ve said this numerous times, is that you keep building.

And there’s certain times when, yeah, you make great strides forward, and there’s other times where you’re going to take a stride or two backwards. It’s a process.

As we all know, golf is a work in progress, and you’ve just got to continue working, keep trying to get better.

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About Author

Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 53rd year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 19 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for Cascade Golfer Magazine and Destination Golfer. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle.

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