Tiger had his pre-PGA Championship press conference on Tuesday at Bellerive Country Club, where he touched upon everything from when tragedy struck before a World Golf Championships event at Bellerive in 2001, his return to the PGA Tour and his pursuit of an automatic bid to the American Ryder Cup team.
Here are the seven best lines from his PGA Championship press conference.
"2001 was a very surreal time, at least for me anyways. I had done an American Express clinic there, here in town, and I played a practice round with [Mark Calcavecchia], and the tragedies that happened transpired. And we tried to play the next day, and I believe I was playing with [Mike Weir] ... one of the towers had fallen on the American Express building, and a lot of people lost their lives and the people at American Express ... were struggling at the time, and I think (PGA Tour Commissioner) Tim (Finchem) made the right move in cancelling the event.
"And that was on the 11th, and I drove home on the 13th and 17 hours to get back home to Florida, and it was a very surreal time for myself on that drive and a lot of reflecting."
Tiger's opening statement allowed him to reflect on his brief experience at Bellerive in 2001, when he only played the course in practice rounds before the tournament was canceled after 9/11. He credits the long drive home from the tournament for being the reason he shifted the focus of his foundation to focus on family and academics, in addition to golf.
"I literally haven't step foot on this golf course since that week in 2001. Didn't get up here pre-British Open, and yesterday I took the day off. So today we only got in five holes and didn't really get a chance to see a whole lot, but I only remember a couple of the holes, but I didn't really remember the first five that I played today. And so I'll have to do some more homework tomorrow and get a good feel for what's going on for the rest of the week."
Tiger turned pro in 1996 so it's weird to think that there's a course that's hosting a major championship that he's never competed on at age 42. He had two previous chances to play at Bellerive – the American Express Championship in 2001 and the BMW Championship in 2008 – but he missed the latter after undergoing surgery.
Tuesday's practice round, which was cut short due to rain, didn't provide much of an opportunity for Tiger to get re-acclimated with the course.
"I've looked forward to it. I was recovering from a surgery in 2008. We all know what happened in 2001. So I just remember, when I was watching it as a kid growing up, [Nick Price] go and just blitz the field here and played really well, and par's different now than it used to be and so I think the golf course will, scoring-wise, may play a little bit differently than it did back in those years.
"But I'm looking forward to competing. I'm looking forward to getting out there Thursday and got a great pairing as well."
Tiger was 16 when Nick Price won the 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive by three strokes. What an introduction he'll get to the course, when he's paired with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds.
"Well, right now it doesn't really favor anyone because it's playing so soft. The ball is just plugging out there, and if anything, it favors a guy who hits the ball high. Because we're not going to get any run, it's not going to dry out the rest of the week. It's going to be hot, it's going to be wet, and fortunately, I'm one of the guys who hit the ball high and get the ball up in the air, and you just need to get the ball out there."
The wet conditions on Tuesday will likely carry over into the tournament, which means players who can keep the ball high in the air to get distance – rather than getting the ball to roll – might have an advantage.
"Well, just the fact that I'm playing the Tour again, it's been – just for me to have this opportunity again – it's a dream come true. I said this many times this year, I didn't know if I could do this again, and lo and behold, here I am. So just coming back and being able to play at this level and compete – I've had my share of chances to win this year as well, and hopefully I'll get it done this week."
Tiger didn't set the bar at winning his 15th major or even winning on the PGA Tour, period. Simply being active and competitive on the PGA Tour is enough for him to consider himself "back."
He has four top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season, including his T6 finish at The Open at Carnoustie, so like Tiger said, he's had his chances to win, which is likely what it will take for many fans to consider his comeback complete.
"Blessed. Very blessed. As I was saying earlier, I didn't really know if I was going to be here or not at this level and very blessed to be here."
Tiger's response was in the same vein as his answer to the comeback question. While he may not be racking up wins like he was in the early 2000s, Tiger didn't know if he would get back to this point in his career where he's playing regularly and competitively on the PGA Tour.
"Well, I think he's trying to get into the top eight."
This response from Tiger might come off as a cop-out at first but it's the answer of a competitor. (It's also great that he talks about himself in third-person to play along with the hypothetical.) The points race for automatic bids isn't over just yet so Furyk won't make any captain's selections until September.
Tiger enters the PGA Championship in 20th place in the Ryder Cup USA points standings and he would need to win the PGA Championship at Bellerive to have a chance at earning an automatic bid. If Tiger has his way, Furyk won't need to make that potential decision because Tiger would have already clinched a roster spot based on his Ryder Cup points.
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