PGA TOUR Transcript, 13 March 2019: After missing the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a sprained neck, Tiger Woods is back in action this week in THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The tournament has a different feel to it this season as it is being played relatively softer conditions compared to its hitherto date in May.
Woods, one among just 23 golfers to have experienced the course in March, believes that the experience will come in handy when the tournament kicks into gear on Thursday.
Q. 23 guys in the field who have experienced this in March. Do you think guys like you and Adam Scott, Jim Furyk had a couple of good tournaments, Phil had a couple of good tournaments. Do you think you’ll have an advantage over the other guys who have just experienced this place in May?
TIGER WOODS: It’s just so much slower, it’s not as warm. The ball doesn’t fly as far and the golf course just plays slower. The only year I really remember it being just brutally hard and fast was when David won, ’99 I think it was. I believe I shot 75-75 on the weekend and moved up. So that’s something that can happen here. It’s going to get cool, it’s windy. We don’t have to deal with, I guess, the ball not going as far in May. It’s just the golf course plays so much shorter in May than it does in March. That’s probably the biggest difference. We’re going to have to hit more clubs off the tees, have a little bit longer clubs into the greens, but the difference is the greens are much slower and much more receptive.
Q. Do you think that gives you an edge over guys who have not experienced that?
TIGER WOODS: I think it’s — knowing the fact that I’ve been between 6-iron and 5-iron on 17 to hit the shot, not too many people can say that, unless they’ve played in March.
Q. A couple if I could, please. First of all, when did your neck start bothering you, how painful was it, and how painful is it now?
TIGER WOODS: It’s not painful now. It was getting to the point where it was affecting my setup, my backswing, my through swing. It was just gradually getting worse. That’s just because my lower back is fused, and so the stress has to go somewhere if I don’t have movement, and so it’s very important for me going forward since the surgery to keep pliable or else the stress is going to go somewhere else.
Q. When did it start?
TIGER WOODS: When did it start? It started a little bit at L.A. but wasn’t a worry. But it started to get a little tighter and tighter and tighter as I played more holes in Mexico.
Q. The other one, you’ve always talked about finding a rhythm for a season. You’ve had the 72 holes in L.A. and elevation struggles in Mexico and the putting, the WD last week. Any concern that you’re behind schedule as far as finding a rhythm before you get to Magnolia Lane?
TIGER WOODS: No. I’ve played three tournaments this year so far, and that’s about right. I was going to play three or four. If I would have gotten my rounds in last week, it would have been four tournaments, so I’m right there where I need to be. My finishes are getting a little bit better each and every time I’ve gone out so far this year, and I’ve gotten a little bit more consistent with my play, and I think that everything is headed on track towards April.
Q. Are there any worries on your part long-term with regard to the injury that you had recently?
TIGER WOODS: To my neck? No. It’s more so just my lower back. I’ve got to keep that moving, even though it’s fixed. I’ve got to keep all the other structures pliable, and that’s one of the issues of having a procedure like I did, that the forces have to go somewhere. I’ve got to stay fit, I’ve got to stay on it, and have to stay as loose as I possibly can for as long as I play out here.
Q. A question about Jack. I think you had a Jack timeline as a kid on your childhood wall bedroom. Do you think of the score in your mind as 20-17 or 18-14?
TIGER WOODS: Well his timeline that I had is first time he broke 40, first time he won a state amateur, first time he broke 80, and the first time he won the U.S. Amateur. And that was it. And so people have blown that way out of proportion. And so that was just a few little junior golf deals and a couple amateur things. Had nothing to do with the professional career.
You have to remember that’s when I was starting to play a little bit more. I was about 11 or so, 11 or 12 when I really started to play a little bit more golf, and I looked at those things and I — if he’s the greatest of all time, then it would be nice if I was a little bit ahead of schedule, according to those little tidbits. I was able to beat all of them at the relative ages that he did it.
Q. How about 14 versus 17 and 18 versus 20.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, there’s that, and I’ve got 80 and he doesn’t.
Q. Two things: Any correlation between the neck problems and the putting and also the decision to have somebody take a look at your putting?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you can only swing or make the movement as good as your body’s feeling. I was starting to get a little stiffer and tighter and unfortunately my — I was hitting the ball halfway decent but it wasn’t very — I wasn’t hitting it hard. I was just plodding along and just kind of getting around. As my neck got a little bit tighter, yeah, I didn’t feel comfortable with my putting, but it was — my putting was uncomfortable going into that point. It just made it worse.
I had Matt take a look at it. I’ve seen Matt out here in the past year because he works with JT a lot, and I’ve played — geez, I’ve played a lot of rounds with JT, either practice rounds here or at home, and Matt has seen my stroke enough. I wanted him to take a look at it and see what he thought of where my setup looked like now versus all the times that I’ve putted well and I’ve putted well with different postures throughout my career. I’ve done different things. But I wanted him to have — I wanted him to take a look at it, and then he mentioned a few things. As I’ve started to feel a little bit better this week or this past week, then the putting definitely freed up.
Q. How does it feel teeing up on the 17th hole with a chance to win like last year?
TIGER WOODS: It was — I had lost my opportunity to win the golf tournament after I messed up on 14. I had to put the hammer down on 16 and 17 and 18. I had to probably play those last three holes, 3-under par if not 4-under par to even have a chance and then Webb still had to mess up. And I hit it right in the water on 17, so it wasn’t very good.
Q. Would you mind critiquing the new trophy versus the one that you have?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I have two crystal ones at home and this would be nice to add to it.
Q. When you look at some of the successes we have seen lately with Vijay at the Honda, obviously Phil’s still popping up on the leaderboard, even Davis Love did the same thing, does it make you or other players rethink the trajectory of how long your careers can last as long as your health is good?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, as our training programs have gotten better over the years, guys are able to play a little bit longer. Look what Jay Haas did late in his career. Fred Funk was the same way. They were able to play into their 50s and still remain out here. And look what Stricks is doing out here. He’s just making cut after cut after cut.
It’s definitely doable. I think technology helps a lot. My swing speed has come down a lot. I’ve lost that fast ball I used to have. But I’m hitting the ball further than I ever have in my life. But it’s relative, right? So everyone is now — the number here now with the carry numbers has gone to 320. If you can carry it 320, you’re one of the longer guys. Well, when I came out here if you carried it 280 you were the longest out here. So it has changed. It’s gotten different, and I think that if you take advantage of the equipment and you take advantage of the training and understanding the training, then I think that we can play much longer into our 40s and if not into our early 50s against guys that are half our age.
Q. Are you suggesting that maybe your timeline may be a little bit longer than maybe you thought 10 years ago?
TIGER WOODS: Well let’s just kind of slow down on that one. Because last year was — let’s just see how it goes. I still don’t know how long I’ll be able to play out here, but I’m still, I’m enjoying the fact that I’m able to play again and to be able to compete. After what I’ve gone through and to be able to do this and have a chance to do this again and be as consistent as I have been is something that I’m very lucky to have.
Q. The famous “better than most” putt, what do you remember about that now and where does that rank among the putts, the great putts that you’ve rolled in?
TIGER WOODS: Well it was a crap iron shot, first of all. I get about — well, see, the truth is that I had a little teach before that putt. I was, we had a delay there on the 17th tee and Fred Funk was playing right in front of us. He hit it up on the top shelf and he 4-putted the hole and so I saw how fast that first — as it came over the rise and as it started going to the right, how much it picked up speed. He almost putted it off the green. In fact he did putt it off the green. So I knew how quick it was, so I gave it a little bit more. It broke left a lot at the top with the old green. It broke left a lot at the top and then it just snapped at the right.
Yeah, I hit my spot and I was just hoping that it would take the break because I saw Fred’s, how much it went to the right at the end, and my putt was not going right. I’m like, would you start breaking. And as soon as it started to break, I’m like, stop breaking. And then it caught the low side of the hole and went in.
Q. Where does it rank?
TIGER WOODS: Where does it rank? I’ve made some good putts, but that was — it wasn’t for the win of the tournament necessarily. I think I was still behind Jerry Kelly at the time, and so it was on a Saturday afternoon, but it definitely gave me some momentum, and as far as some of my greatest putts it will be up there on the lag putts, but I’ve had some other putts I thought. Even the short one at Valhalla to get into a playoff, I thought that was a bigger putt.
Q. On the tightness of the neck, when’s the first time since the fusion that that flared up, if you want to call it that, and how often?
TIGER WOODS: It flared up at the British Open. I had it there and I had it pretty much early part of the playoffs and then it started going away.
Q. Secondly, does it affect your schedule going forward, not necessarily immediately, but as you look at the rest of the year, do you have to avoid back-to-back stuff?
TIGER WOODS: No. As I said last year, I played a lot from what I thought, because I kept qualifying for events and I kept trying to get into bigger events, tried to get my World Ranking up and try and qualify for the Playoffs. As I said the end of last year, I wasn’t going to play as many times as I did last year. So it’s just about trying to manage what I have.
I’m 43 with four back surgeries, so just manage what I have and understand that I’m going to have good weeks and bad weeks and try and manage as best I possibly can and not push it. There are times when over the years I pushed it, pushed it through a few things, and I’ve won a few tournaments doing it that way, but also I’ve cost myself a few years here and there because of it.
Q. Is it a concern?
TIGER WOODS: Not really. It’s just part of the nature of the sport. If you have force, it’s got to go somewhere. If it’s not my lower back, it’s going to be in the hip, it’s going to be — you know I have had four knee operations. It’s got to go somewhere. We’re not immune to having the forces go somewhere. Eventually on a repetitive sport, you’re going to wear out something.
Q. Would you mind saying what type of golfer you think will win here this time of the year in the conditions that will prevail?
TIGER WOODS: It’s a very simple formula here: Hit it good. It’s not real complicated. The golf course is one that Pete has set up to intimidate you visually. You have to overcome that part of it. And no, you can’t really play poorly and win this event. I think we all have to accept that you’re going to hit good shots, too, as well, and going to get some weird hops, get some really, really funky lies, whether it’s off the fairway or around the greens. Stuff where you’re standing on your head and hitting shots, which is not normal, but on a Pete Dye course, it is.
Q. Apologize first, this is not tournament related, but I wanted to ask you about your involvement with youth and their activities. On one side of spectrum, your involvement with your foundation, how much difference you’re making, non-golf related. But on the other side, I was told that you’ve been a guest speaker at Sage Valley or the Nike event. I just wanted to see how much you enjoyed that role and if you don’t mind sharing some of the stories.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, well, I enjoy the fact that trying to help kids’ lives and trying to give them a better opportunity than they possibly could have expected under their circumstances in which they grew up, and it’s why my foundation is based in education and based in STEM. I enjoy speaking. I enjoy — more than anything, I enjoy the Q&A session of it. When I do interactions or speaking with crowds, I want their involvement. I’ll say a few things and kind of set the tone for it, but I actually want them to get something out of it, so I want the kids to ask a lot of the questions and then I’ll speak from there, because I’m trying to help them. But whatever’s on their mind, let’s talk about it. I think that that interaction has been a lot of fun for me, and I think that some of the kids have got a little bit out of it.
Q. Any plans of hosting like a junior or college event in the future or anything like that?
TIGER WOODS: Not really, no. We’re so focused on my foundation, we’re focused on STEM and education that golf is not a priority to us. Yes, I’m involved in the game of golf, but my foundation is focused and centered around education.
Q. When was your first session working with Matt on the stroke? And after sort of being your own coach for a little while, what kind of made it clear to you that maybe you needed a second set of eyes to just kind of maybe put you on the right track again?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I just wanted to — as I said, Matt has seen my stroke enough, and he has seen — I’ve listened to what he has said to JT over the past year or so, and I really respect what he sees. He’s very knowledgeable. Got a chance to talk to him a little bit at Hazeltine when JT was on the Ryder Cup team and I was a vice-captain, and we had some nice chats there, as well.
I had been feeling that my stroke has been off, but it’s — a lot of it is physically. I’m having a hard time getting into the different postures. As my body’s felt better, my stroke has come back a little bit, but also I wanted to see where was I off, what did he see.
As I said earlier, I have putted with very different postures and styles over the years. To me it feels very different, but they have had a couple little things that have been very common. I like to putt with my right hand. I like to feel like the toe is releasing. I’ve had some hit in my stroke, which I don’t — a lot of people try and take that out of it, but I enjoy putting that way, and I’ve putted my best that way.
Q. How much do you study analytics within your own game, and if so, are there certain statistics that you look at more than others?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I do. Wins. (Laughter.)
Q. How about actual numbers like within your game?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, those aren’t numbers? I like looking at where I am in relation to how I have played my best. Not necessarily in relation to what the TOUR is or what is the new formulas and the new analytics of strokes gained and stuff like that. I try not to get involved in what the other guys are doing, but what is it in relation to when I was playing.
Sometimes some of those numbers aren’t available because we didn’t have it. But something close to it. And I try and get my attention away from what other players are doing and to what I’m doing. So that’s been how I’ve looked at it, and a lot of it is a lot of self-reflecting and trying to be honest with myself of where I think that I’m not very good at and things that I am good at, and the thing is, I have to be conscious of that I can’t practice like I used to. I can’t devote the hours like I used to on every facet of my game. I got to pick 20 minutes here, an hour there, and focus on this part of my game. So I can’t practice on all parts of my game, and I’ve had to try and figure that out, and that’s how it’s going to be going forward.
Q. You mentioned the 18th hole earlier, about hitting 3-iron in there. How intimidating is that hole to play? And over the years how have you approached playing it?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it’s a tough hole. There’s nothing easy about that hole. Anything starts left, it’s not coming back and you’re going to have to be dropping up on the next tee or playing from there again. The bail-out, that first tree, I think was 280 to that first tree, and that’s dead. So I’ve tried to play more in the conservative side to try and put it in play, even though I’m a little further back. But it’s so much easier in May because, I mean, it’s a nothing tee shot because it’s always downwind. We always got the south wind here. And it’s just some kind of hybrid or 3-iron for me or even a 5-wood and some kind of wedge or 9-iron to the green.
Flip it to March, and it becomes very different hole. Now you’re forced to hit driver, and from there it’s going to be a tough fit, and generally if you have a north wind, it’s slightly off the left, and off the left and with that hazard, it’s a tough tee shot.
And then you have that second shot where you can’t bail right. You can’t bail short. You got to hit two really good golf shots to finish it off. And if you can play that hole in 16 for the week, you’re going to be picking up a lot of shots on the field.
Q. Do you have a strong feeling yet on whether you’ll play the Match Play?
TIGER WOODS: Let me see how this event goes, just because of where I was. Going into Bay Hill, I wanted to play that event. It’s Arnie’s event, and it was smart to take that one off. We’ll see how this event goes. If nothing flares up, then I’ll play.
Q. And everyone was sort of talking about the longevity you can get that now that modern technology, training, etcetera. But do you have concerns for guys like Jason Day and others that have had injuries sort of popping up a bit more because of this force you talked of?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I would think that the younger kids now that are involved in the game that are coming into the game are — put it this way, that are coming on to the TOUR now, by far hit it harder than what we did when we came on TOUR. And that’s due to technology and that’s also due to the training and also due to the fact that I — in my opinion, the drivers have gotten so much bigger and you have so much more surface area to miss it and hit the ball well. When I beat Davis in that playoff in ’96, he had a persimmon driver. You laugh, but that was — they were still around. So you had to hit the ball absolutely dead flush, and the guys didn’t really hit it that hard. But now you can.
These kids have been training. They’re stronger, they’re more physical. You look what the college programs are doing, how many times they’re lifting, five, six times a week. They’re so much stronger now and they’re able to handle the force, but also they’re generating a lot of force, so there’s going to be a give and take.
It will be interesting to see. These kids are hitting it so much further now and it’s cool to see. We thought that Dustin was long and Bubba was long, and then we have Cameron Champ out here. It just keeps propping up. I thought I was pretty long, and then John Daly would hit it by me.
Q. So I guess we’ll know when they’re 40, right, how that works over time?
TIGER WOODS: It’s going to — we’re going to see how it goes over the next 15, 20 years, see how the sport evolves. When you’re swinging clubs that are 15 ounces and things, what we used to, to where now it’s like as light as a feather. I remember, I mean, geez, my driver shaft was 121, 122 grams. Now they’re 60 and 50, 60, 70 grams. So, yeah, they’re lighter, and hence you’re hitting it further.
But these kids are swinging so much harder, but they’re so much stronger, and we’ll see how that evolves. There’s no reason why you can’t play longer with the way the training is. You also have to be lucky, too, not to have injuries. Some bodies just get more dinged up than others.
Q. You mentioned that if you feel good through this you might add Match Play. Does that take next week out of contention?
TIGER WOODS: We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how everything goes here. This is an important week. I’m going to focus on this week and then I’ll let you guys know later in the week.
Q. Kind of along those same lines, you mentioned last year was a year of let’s see how it goes. Is this kind of phase two of let’s see how it goes?
TIGER WOODS: Well it’s — I know that I can play the game again, okay. That last year was, we’ll see if I can even play. I know I can play again, I know I can win a golf tournament, and so I know I can compete at the highest level. So that’s all good. Now it’s about keeping it consistent, keeping my body solid and fresh and pliable and athletic. These are all things that are a little bit more difficult as you progress in age, and these are the challenges I’m going to be facing going forward. The fact that I can’t sit out there and practice for eight to 12 hours like I used to and I got to pick my days and I got to pick my hours, and on top of that there are times when I just can’t do it and I got to shut it down, just like I did last week, I had to shut it down for the week and get ready for this week.
Q. And understanding that the two are linked, but which is your bigger concern this week, the neck or the putting?
TIGER WOODS: Neither. Neither. I feel good on both. The putting feels so much better as I feel better. That kind of goes hand in hand. Just like my golf swing. If my back’s aching, then it’s not very hard and it’s not going very far and I’ve hit some squirrelly shots. So it goes hand in hand.
Q. There’s examples to the contrary, but generally putting doesn’t get better with age. Do you buy into that at all, or do you find that what you’ve been going through are things you’ve struggled with throughout your career?
TIGER WOODS: You know, the longer you play we’re all going to have patches where we just don’t putt well and patches where we make everything. And I’ve had my share of runs where I’ve really played well. For me personally, if I can see the line and I feel like I’m releasing this thing and that toe’s flying over, I feel good. That’s a good feeling for me. Other guys don’t putt that way, don’t feel that way, but I grew up in more of a feeling like Bobby Locke and Crenshaw and those guys of letting the putter go, and if I do that, I feel great.
Transcript – ASAP Sport