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An Interview With: Tiger Woods

JULIUS MASON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Tiger Woods joining us at the 86th PGA Championship, playing in his eighth PGA Championship.

Tiger, welcome to Whistling Straits. Some opening comments and we'll go to Q&A, please.

TIGER WOODS: This is an absolutely fantastic facility. The golf course is going to be difficult this week if the wind blows. So far, I've played nine holes yesterday, 18 today, and played in two different winds. It's going to be an interesting test this week, especially if the wind stays up like this all week.

Q. Since you won at Bethpage, there has not been a player who has won multiple majors, nine majors, nine different winners. Do you have a particular theory as to why that might be the case, and would it have anything to do with the way they set up courses for majors these days?

TIGER WOODS: The theory is it's not easy. It's never easy to win a major championship. I think all of you guys realize that now.

Q. Do you think there needs to be some changes with the Ryder Cup process of points only going to the Top-10 finishers? Do you have any thoughts on that?

TIGER WOODS: In what way?

Q. How would you change it?

Maybe if the guy finishes 11th and gets no points, is that fair for a guy to finish 9th and get points? And like when Fred bypassed -- should tournaments held opposite major events get the same points as THE PLAYERS Championship.

TIGER WOODS: It would be the same thing. If you look at The Match Play versus Tucson, NEC versus Reno. There are certain events.

It's just the way the system is set up. I guess the only system you could possibly go to is how we determine our Presidents Cup team where it's a two-year total rolling process all the way through. That's probably the easiest way to do it and how the Tour has decided to do it.

Q. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe at the Buick on Saturday and Sunday, your Saturday was 36 percent fairways and you had 66, and Sunday was 76 percent fairways and you still shot 66. Same score, both ways. What does that tell you about statistics and putting the ball in the fairway on a course this week, your take?

TIGER WOODS: If you're out there and following, you would understand, because I hit five balls on the first cut. So it wasn't like I was hitting it off the planet; they were just right there. That's why the statistics sometimes don't always tell the truth in that regard. That particular round, that's what the case was.

As far as putting the ball in play this week, it's imperative; you have to putt the ball in play. If you miss your tee shot, you have to make sure you miss it on the correct side of the fairway so you can at least have a chance to advance it up to the green. Some holes, you miss on the wrong side, you're doing well just to get back to the fairway.

Q. Jack Nicklaus had his dry spell in the majors and you're having one right now. Does that worry you as far as catching Jack and surpassing his record of major championships?

TIGER WOODS: No. You've just got to keep grinding and keep working at it and give yourself a lot of opportunities. I think that's what Jack was able to do better than any other player in the history of our game. He gave himself a lot of chances. I give myself some chances and just haven't won. It's a matter of keep putting myself up there.

Q. A lot of players this week have said that this is one of the tougher courses, if not the toughest course they have played. Is that your experience now from playing this place the last couple of weeks, or has the rain made it a little more playable?

TIGER WOODS: You know, if the wind blows like this, I don't think I've played a golf course this difficult, if the wind blows. If the wind doesn't blow, the guys will shoot good scores. But if the wind blows like it did today, every hole is a crosswind. You rarely ever face any shot into the wind or downwind. Everything is always either off the left or off the right, which makes it very difficult.

You know, Mark and I and David were talking about this today. There's not one hole out here where you can't make -- there's a possibility of making double with a marginal shot, not just a bad golf shot, just a marginal shot. You get a bad bounce and all of a sudden you're down off one of those cliffs or you get into a rut off a bunker, you have absolutely no golf shot.

A couple shots you might have to putt it back in the middle of the bunker so you can at least advance it, and those are the breaks you're going to see when you watch this championship this week.

Q. It's been said that maybe it's a little more visually intimidating, a lot of shots and maybe there's more room than it actually looks like. Have you found that to be the case?

TIGER WOODS: There's plenty of room out there. The problem is, if you go out and look at the golf course, shoulder to green, he's made it bentgrass and it's not like fescue on every other fairway, from the beginning of the fairway up to that part just short of the green. You try to bump the ball in there, land it short, sometimes it backs up. There's a lot of room, but the problem is you can't use a lot of it to run the ball up. It's not like Troon this year where you can land it 50, 60 yards and run it all the way up to the green. Here, the ball is just not going to run. It's links-style golf but it's also target golf, as well. It's both. It looks like a links golf course but plays more like a target golf course because you can't bounce the ball up.

I ripped a couple 3-irons yesterday as well as today into the greens just trying to land the ball short, and the ball only rolled 10 feet. If it did that at Troon this year, you'd be looking at 50, 60 yards of run, at least. So it's two totally different formats in how it's set up. But visually there is a lot of room, but the problem is you can't quite use all of it.

Q. When was the last time you played with David Duval, what did you see out of his game and what does his future hold?

TIGER WOODS: Haven't played with Double D for a while now. We might have played -- I think World Cup was probably the last time we played, in Japan.

But as far as the way he's playing, I think he's on the right track. He's hitting some golf shots now that are solid, they are controlled, and the cool thing about him, you could see his excitement level is back. He will get back, there's no doubt about that.

Q. In terms of the difficulty of this course, has the PGA shown a lot of restraint in the setup and could this course in the wrong hands be just almost unplayable?

TIGER WOODS: At least the greens are soft enough and receptive enough where they are not going to get out of control and dry out as well as the pin locations. The PGA of America, they have really set up the golf course where the pins are three and four from the side. They are difficult, there's no doubt about that, but they are fair. I think that's what we saw last year at Oak Hill. It was an extremely difficult golf course, but it was set up very fair, and that's kind of how I think all PGA Championship venues have been set up.

This setup, I think the only thing you have to watch out for are the tee setups. If the wind blows, make sure you move the tees in appropriate spots, so at least you can give the guys a chance to get to the green in regulation.

Q. This is the state where you launched your professional golf career. Does it seem like it was a lifetime ago since so much has happened to you both on and off the course since then, and what are your recollections of that week in Milwaukee?

TIGER WOODS: Boy, it does seem like a lifetime ago. It was nine, ten years ago, so it's been a while. A lot has happened in my life since then.

When I turned pro, I was just praying that I could do well enough not to have to go to Q-School. I think with my record now, I don't have to (laughter). I can get a couple exemptions, which is nice.

Q. What do you recall from that week?

TIGER WOODS: What do I recall from that week? I was extremely nervous. I was embarking on something I had never been through before, and I didn't know what my future was going to hold for me. I didn't know anything. I had played Tour events before, but I had never played them consecutively like that. There were so many different things that I had to try and get used to very quickly, and also perform at a high level, so it was a lot of information all at once.

It was a little overwhelming to try and have to organize everything, but I got to have a go at my game and it was a lot of fun.

Q. Jerry Kelly said earlier that he would love to play in front of the crowds that you face all the time. Just curious what you think when you hear that, and do the crowds and the attention, does that ever get old?

TIGER WOODS: It's nice to have the support that they show, the enthusiasm that they show. But as we all know, sometimes it can be a little difficult with all the distractions going on inside the ropes, outside the ropes, things that are moving and things, noises that you just don't normally -- you would not normally have to face. I think that's something that I've been fortunate enough that I've had enough time to get accustomed to it. But still, sometimes it can be very difficult.

Q. Kind of a two-part question, I don't think you said exactly what you shot here at the Straits, the first nine of your 18, wanted to get that score, the scores that you shot here, if you are willing?

TIGER WOODS: I didn't keep score. I'm hitting shots up there, picking them up, putting to certain areas. Sorry I can't help you out on that.

Q. It's been well documented, all of the conspiracy theories, what's wrong with Tiger, this, that and the other. Do you ever take yourself back to the place where you won those four straight majors? I don't know if you videotaped, but what is the answer, I guess, to find that rhythm that you found then that has not been there?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I hit a lot of fairways, I hit a lot of balls real close and I made a lot of putts (laughter).

Q. That simple?

TIGER WOODS: It's that simple. And I shot some pretty good scores.

Hey, you know, I got into a great rhythm, and you ask any player out here, there's no substitute for confidence, and I was feeling very confident at the time. I was sitting up there and hitting shots, making a bunch of putts. That was probably the best stretch I've ever had in my life as far as putting-wise. You look at the way I putted at Pebble Beach, I didn't miss one putt inside 10 feet, and the British Open was about the same. That's a nice problem to have when you go through a stretch like that.

Q. Do you think you're turning the corner on that?

TIGER WOODS: Feel I'm turning the corner?

Q. Turning the corner back to that place.

TIGER WOODS: I feel like I'm playing better and I am excited about it.

Q. You've said that if the wind didn't blow the scores would be good. What would constitute a good score on this course?

TIGER WOODS: I think guys would be able to shoot under par. If the wind doesn't blow at all, I think guys will shoot under par every round, at least the winner probably will. But if the wind blows, it's a completely different story.

Q. Can you tell how much higher the scores might be if the wind blows, for example all four days?

TIGER WOODS: It will be -- you'd be doing well to try to keep it around par.

Q. As you said, Q-School probably is not in your future, but everyone would love to be Tiger Woods, and yet all of the conversation even here this morning to some extent is about distractions and expectations. How do you, as well as you know us, how do you block all that out and just do what you do so well?

TIGER WOODS: You just get up there and go play. One of the great things my father said, just take sanctuary on the golf course. When you go out there and play, just go out there and play. That's one of the great things -- I may have to deal with a lot of different distractions, but hey, I can get out there and enjoy myself out there competing and I'm trying to beat these guys and trying to win a tournament. That, to me, is the fun and the thrill of it.

Q. You have spoken about your thoughts of this facility, but now that you've been in the area for a few days, could you give me your impressions of the staff that's out here, Kohler Company and Wisconsin hospitality in general?

TIGER WOODS: As far as the staff, I've only seen what they have done here at the clubhouse, but I think they have done a fantastic job. The people have been extremely nice and extremely courteous and helpful. I think I got lost a couple of times when I first got here, so it's nice that they straightened me out.

The grounds crew has done a fantastic job preparing this golf course and getting it ready. It's immaculate. So the entire staff here this week has been put to the test, and they are passing with flying colors.

Q. This is a focus question, too. Sometimes you have different comfort levels depending on who you're playing with. What's your thought about your pairing for the first couple of rounds with John Daly and Vijay Singh?

TIGER WOODS: It's going to be certainly interesting with the spectators. I think there might be a couple out there (smiling).

It will be an exciting atmosphere for all of us. I don't think that -- I don't think I've ever played with JD before in competition, in a regular Tour event. I've played with him obviously at Battle of the Bridges or practice rounds, but I don't think I've ever played with him in an actual tournament competitive environment.

Vijay and I have played and have battled many times, so nothing has changed there. But I think you add all three, with Vijay playing as well as he has and JD and myself, I think it will be a pretty great atmosphere to play in front of.

Q. How much attention do you pay to the World Golf Rankings and the closeness of the race at the top? And how much of a sense of pride is it for you to now equal Greg Norman's record at 331 weeks atop --

TIGER WOODS: Well, it's been -- it's kind of hard to say because the rankings haven't been going on that long. I think if you went back to Nicklaus's prime, or Watson's streak there he had for a while, for 10 years, it's hard to say.

But as far as from the '90s onto here, it's been nice to have been as consistent as I've been. That's one thing that I'm very proud of; that I've been very consistent, I think that's the only way you can stay up on top for as long as I have. Just like the same thing with Greg, Greg was very consistent every week, he would just seem to make a Top?10, and that's if he played poorly. If he played well, he won.

Q. Obviously this state has not seen a major in a while, so you've probably seen the crowds are big and the people seem pumped in this state. What was it like on 2 when that guy seemed like he jumped out of the lake? What was your reaction?

TIGER WOODS: That was pretty funny. You were out there for that (laughing)?

JULIUS MASON: You might want to set the stage for those that weren't.

TIGER WOODS: Literally just like he said. He came like he was running out of the lake. He was huffing and puffing and having a hard time breathing, and he had a hat with a Tiger on it, and he wanted me to sign it. He said a few things that were pretty funny. We were all just busting up laughing.

Put it this way, you had to be there in order to really appreciate the story. I mean, you were there and it's one of those things you'll never forget because it was pretty funny.

Q. Can you just talk a little bit, you've had the driver for the past month or so. What has that done for you, and do you suppose this course will let you use it, maybe more than Troon and Shinnecock did?

TIGER WOODS: Considering most of the par 4s are near 500 yards, I think, yeah. The par 5s are about 600 yards. I might use it on a couple par 3s, as well.

The golf course is set up, yeah, you can use the driver quite a bit. This driver has been great for me. I went to it at the Western. I've had some great drives with it, a lot of success, and I feel very comfortable and confident with it. It's done a lot for me because I'm finally able to get the ball out of my shadow and get it out there now and keep up with the boys.

Q. You mentioned earlier that there's no substitute for confidence. I don't know to say that maybe have you lost any confidence is the right way, but is your confidence level different now going into majors than it was in 2000?

TIGER WOODS: Oh, certainly. I haven't been hitting the ball quite as close to the flags. I haven't been making as many putts. Obviously, when I'm going out there and shooting 12-under par in the U.S. Open and 19-under par in the British Open, things are going pretty good. You're feeling pretty good about your game and you're riding a high. That's what I was able to do. 18-under at the PGA. I shot some great scores on my run there.

Q. Another question about confidence. Ernie Els has talked about what he called the little man, or inner voices, kind of whispers of doubts. He's had a terrific year in the majors but not quite gotten there. Can you talk about what it takes to overcome those whispers about Ernie's game and the state of his game now?

TIGER WOODS: You just keep playing. You just play. Yeah, every one of us has moments where we have doubts and we've got to overcome them. That's part of the game. That's part of playing sport. Everybody goes through that. It's a matter of just getting up there and believing in your abilities. If you put in the work and know what you can do, it's just a matter of going out there and executing it properly.

Q. Has Ernie been doing that?

TIGER WOODS: Ernie's been doing that. He just had hard luck at The Masters. He ran into a little bit of a problem at the U.S. Open Sunday but played beautifully the first three days. Again, he made a great run at The Open Championship on Sunday. To finish the way he did, birdieing two of the last three, that's pretty impressive, to get into a playoff. And then he just hit one bad shot in that playoff and it cost him.

But, hey, he played great and he's been playing great all year. It's just a manifestation of how he's been playing over the last few years. It's just a continuation of it. He has not really changed. He's been playing this well for a while. I think now he's able to do it more often in major championships.

Q. Curious about your take on the closing stretch of holes, particularly 17 and 18.

TIGER WOODS: Well, 17 obviously it's penal to the left. The only thing I think most of the players will probably agree is that mound on the right just doesn't quite fit the hole. The prevailing wind is always off to the right, so you're throwing it out there and you have this big mound with a bunker in it; it just doesn't fit the hole. You're trying to come in from the right and now you have this big kind of pinnacle on the right-hand side, on the front, right part of the green. Anything that hits there is just going to shoot it. It makes for a more difficult golf shot. You can't bump-and-run it because the greens are soft and you definitely can't bring it in from the right because of that point.

So you have to throw it in there high with some kind of fade on it and try to hold it against that wind, which makes for a very difficult golf shot.

18 today was pretty interesting -- it was pretty interesting, 18 today. Double D went up there and just smoked one, didn't get to the fairway. Mark hit one to the right. I tattooed mine, hit a 3-wood in the middle of the green, which is great.

They have two tee markers out there on 18, and I think with this wind they would more than likely play the up tee, but if it doesn't blow in the morning and they set it up back there and all of a sudden it changes and starts blowing in the afternoon, then you're looking at 18 for most of the guys as a three-shot hole. That's just the way it is, you can't get there.

Mark hit a decent drive there and he couldn't get there. He had a 3-wood and a full lob-wedge in there. So that's just kind of how the hole is going to be played, if the wind blows and the tee is back. If the tee is up, then it's a long par 4 that's playable. It's going to be a tee shot that's difficult but not that hard. The second one is the one that you have to place it properly, to put it on the green so that you don't have to chip on the green.

Q. You're talking about how you understand how difficult it is to win a major and with Jack, but is there a point, are you close to a point where you think given everything, I still should win one, if it gets 0 for 9 or 0 for 10 or 0 for 11, that it would bother you?

TIGER WOODS: If I had not given myself a chance through those major championships and I had not felt like I should have won, then I would be bothered a lot more than I am. I feel like I probably should have won the last two Open Championships and I was right there with a chance at Royal St. George. I bogeyed two of the last four holes and missed a playoff by two with a lost ball on the first hole the first day.

Then at this Open Championship, I thought I was playing well enough and I made one birdie in 36 holes on the back nine, but I was playing well. I just didn't make any birdies. I feel like I was hitting the ball well enough to do it. Whether I hit bad shots or missed a lot of putts, I felt like I should have been there in the last couple of holes to win the tournament, I was playing that well.

If I had not gone through stretches like that where I was playing that well, it would be more frustrating.

Q. You haven't really said whether you actually like the golf course. Do you like it? Is it the type of course you would want to play regularly?

TIGER WOODS: I tell you, if I was an 18-handicapper, I would not want to play here (laughter).

I tell you what, if the wind doesn't blow, then this is a great golf course to play. It's a lot of fun. But if the wind, obviously, howls, it's so difficult. It's hard for us as players to describe to you how difficult it is because we've got to go out there and hit the golf shots from all of these uneven lies and the wind is crosswind. It's very difficult when the wind blows like it does today, you know, 20 miles an hour. It all depends.

Q. You talked about 17 and 18 earlier. Is there one hole out here that concerns you more than others?

TIGER WOODS: No. There's 18 of them.

Q. They are all that tough?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah. I mean, I said earlier in the press conference that there's not one hole that you feel like, you know, there's no way I can physically make a double-bogey on this hole. And we play tournaments in major championships where you'd have to really -- you would really have to work to make a double. But that's just the way it is.

But here, you can hit a marginal golf shot and end up making double very easily. I've never seen that in any other golf course.

Q. Tiger, how much additional preparation did you have to make for Whistling Straits, this being a first-time major championship course, and what discoveries have you made over the last couple of weeks about this place?

TIGER WOODS: When I first played, I played last week. I came up here and played, Mark and I, and we found that it was a completely different golf course. We played with a north wind. So the first hole was in our face off the left, and we hit driver and a 5-iron. Today I hit driver and a sand wedge. Two totally different ways to play it.

17 was playing straight downwind and I hit 7-iron. It's just completely different.

18 I hit driver, pitching wedge, so it's a completely different wind. It was down off the right. I had a hard time not driving the ball through the fairway. Today I can barely get to it. So I've played with two totally different winds, probably about 180 degrees opposite direction, and today the wind is a little bit different direction than it was yesterday, as well.

Q. In the Ryder Cup, how important is it for you to improve your record, and do you envision yourself sort of following in Jack's footsteps a little bit as far as what his record has been and maybe yourself being a captain one day?

TIGER WOODS: Well, hey, I've played in, what, three teams now? Yeah, three teams, and some of my matches, I played terrible, I haven't played well, and other times I've played great and lost. It's very interesting, when you play in a format like that, 18 holes, anything can happen.

I went out there with Zinger and I shot 65 on my own ball and we lost. And I remember down -- it's not the Ryder Cup, but the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, I shot 64 on my own ball and lost that match, and I've shot 73 and won a match on best ball. It's wild how it works out that way.

Would I like to have a better record? Yes. But I've always tried my best, and that's what I've been able to do.

Q. You're experiencing the love and the warmth and the enthusiasm for the game of golf here in the State of Wisconsin. Is that enough to convince you to maybe consider coming back on a regular basis to the Milwaukee stop every year?

TIGER WOODS: Me? (Laughter.)

Yeah, I would like to come back, there's no doubt about that. Unfortunately, I haven't gone back yet, but I will.

Q. Going back to Jerry Kelly, he's playing in his home state and a with a Ryder Cup berth at stake. Could you talk about the pressure he's under this week?

TIGER WOODS: It's one of those things where you have to put it all aside and go play. There's a lot of pressure playing in a major championship and that's enough. He's been playing great over the last couple of years to get to the position he's at with a great chance of making the Ryder Cup. So, just go out there and play the way he's been playing. He's been playing great.

Q. Is this year at all analogous to '98, when in terms of swing changes and sacrifices you made, taking a step back with maybe the long term, taking a step forward, and have you second?guessed the changes this year during the ups and downs?

TIGER WOODS: No. You're very right on that. This is very similar to that, that period I went through in '98. It feels very similar to that, and the things that are starting to come together, it's very exciting, just like it was back in '98 and '99 where they were starting to gel towards the end of '98 and the beginning of '99. That part of it is very similar.

Have I ever second?guessed it? No. Because I knew that this is the direction I wanted to go in order to become better. I'm very excited about the prospects of that happening.

JULIUS MASON: Two-time PGA Champion, Tiger Woods, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.

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