Tiger Woods at the Masters: Happy to be here, ready to go

A lot of choice detail came out of Tiger Woods’ Masters media session on Tuesday. Tiger isn’t known for being particularly expressive with the media although when I saw him in Phoenix, his body language seemed open, unhurried and willing.

So when I had a chance to read his Masters transcript, I was impressed with how more forthcoming he was. He seemed willing to go to deeper levels than normal and with his usual bantering wit. So here are some cherry-picked comments that set the stage or stood out for me. It began with the moderator inquiring about his health and what his preparations for the week were like: 

Well, I’m excited, excited to be back, to be back playing at this level.  I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level, the highest level, and I’m excited to be here.

There’s no other tournament in the world like this, and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special.  Excited to be competing again and really looking forward to Thursday.

Now that he was on site, looking back, was there anything in his preparation that would have driven his decision to not playing?

If I felt like I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I needed to or even chipping and putting, as well, but I needed to have all facets of my game come around.  They all have, and we’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of work on this (smiling) and it’s finally paid off.

Yeah, but… What was the process? How did things break down in terms of how much he practiced on the range versus playing on the course? Just what was the secret formula that he used to arrive in such a good state?

I worked my ass off (smiling).  That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it.  I worked hard.

It was (sighing) people would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again.  But it was sunup to sundown, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it.  So it was a lot of work.

And his back issues from a structural perspective seem to be behind him, not that he doesn’t have the normal aches from testing the limits of fatigued muscles:

A little bit here and there.  But it was just from the twisting.  It just gets sore also bending over and hitting so many putts, too.  There’s only — you stand over a putter for a couple hours, you’re going to be a little sore.  But just had to get through it.

Had my therapist there and he worked on me and it was all good and ready to go.  I had no structural damage, no structural issues.  It was just the fact that my muscles got fatigued.

So where exactly did he begin his swing rehabilitation?

Well, it was very telling that I was stuck right between two release patterns.  That was the good part.

The bad part is trying to have to solidify that and keep going down the path I was going, and it was going to take time and effort and that’s one of the reasons I decided not to compete for a while; it was going to take time.

It was nice to see that I had — when I did it right, how far I could hit it again.  But also, then again, I was caught right in between.  So I just needed to make sure that I got into the release pattern that we wanted to get into, and once I did, then I just had to hammer it out and make sure it was engrained.

Was there any point where he lost hope of coming back?

More frustration than anything else, because I knew what I could do, and just wasn’t able to do it at the time.  It would come in flashes.  I would get in these modes where it would come for ten minutes and I would just have it, just dialed in; and then I’d lose it for an hour; and then I’d get it back.  And next thing you know, I’d flip to having it for an hour to ten minutes of losing it, and then it got to a point where it was just there.

How does he manage the unrelenting scrutiny of his swing and comeback?

Well, I think it’s anyone’s choice whether they use the Internet or not.  So I refuse to go on and read what you all write, good or bad, whether you’re friends of mine or not.  Just choose not to go down that road.

I’ve come to the understanding that I live it.  I know exactly what I’m doing out here and I’ve hit the shots, and I don’t really need someone else’s secondhand opinion of what I was thinking of.  I know exactly what I was doing out there.

But it’s nice to be back and see some of my old friends out here and get back to competing again.

And then there was the ongoing question about how his short game changed as he progressed though his various coaches:

They all changed, all different release patterns.  So they all had — putting changed, full swing changed, they are all different release patterns.  So they were all seamless throughout the bag, but all different release patterns.

Was this change any more difficult than the others?

Not necessarily, because it’s a familiar pattern.  As I was describing to you guys earlier in the year, it’s new but old, or old but new.  I’ve been there before.  Once I started picking it up, it came pretty quick.

How have things changed over the years. Does he feel any different now that he’s mellowed with age and been softened by the experience of having kids?

No.  Competing is still the same.  I’m trying to beat everybody out there.  That hasn’t changed.  I prepare to win and expect to do — to go and do that.

The only difference is that, yeah, I won the Masters when Jordan was still in diapers.  That’s the difference is that guys are now younger, a whole other generation of kids are coming out.  And the game has gotten bigger.

When I first came out here, I mean, I was — I think I averaged like 296, I think it was, and I was second to John Daly at the time.  Now, guys, the carry number is 320.  When I first won my first golf tournament on Tour, I beat Davis Love in a playoff with a Persimmon driver.  That’s now changed.

The game has evolved so much since I’ve been out here and I think that’s the biggest difference is that I know I can pump it out there to 320, but I can’t carry it out there each and every time like some of the big guys can, and the game has just become so big.  7,100‑yard golf courses are extremely short; before, they were long.

Nobody worked out except for Vijay and myself, and now everyone has their trainer here this week.  You see guys are losing more weight, getting fit faster, doing explosive exercises, doing things people thought was unheard of in our sport, but now golf has become more of a sport.

Rory has been getting exposure for his powerlifting physique. Has Tiger warned him off of going too far with that?

I encourage it.  I do the same thing.  You’ve got to be explosive.  The ball is not moving.  We’ve got to move it out there and the only way to do that is to be fast.

Given that he’s been in the wilderness in recent times, is there any result short of winning that he would still regard as success in coming out of these times?

No, I still feel the same way.  I want to win.  The whole idea is to prepare and do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.

As I said earlier in the year, I was caught right between two release patterns, and I had to get rid of that and make sure I had one release pattern in me.  It took a while.  It took a lot of hard work that went into it.  I finally got to the point where I feel I can do it now [under pressure].

And was there an aha moment that made it clear to him that he was, in fact, ready for the Masters?

There was really no moment like that.  It was a slow and steady progression each and every day.  We worked on it each and every day, just taking little bits of it, just improve each and every day.

When the sun came up, by the time the sun set, I should be a better player than I was in the morning, and that was the case.  That was our whole focus was just to get better incrementally.  We don’t need to make big, giant leaps or anything like that, but just incrementally get better.

In pressing to get back, how much significance did he place on the fact that it was for the Masters? His answer got into the detail of what makes the Masters such a special tournament:

Well, as I said, this tournament is so special to me for so many reasons.  There’s no other tournament like it.  I think it’s probably — most guys will probably rate it as their most favorite tournament.

We as players love it because it’s basically a players tournament.  You go out there and it’s just a player and a caddie and that’s it.  It’s very quiet out there on the golf course; and inside the ropes, it’s really just us.  There’s something special about it.

You come here to a golf course in which we play each and every year, where other majors don’t.  There’s so much history involved.  I just find it fascinating that they keep changing this place, it seems like, every year and it looks exactly the same, like it’s never been touched.  It’s just fascinating.

I didn’t play last year so I didn’t see when the Eisenhower Tree was gone.  I didn’t realize 17 was straight ahead.  I always thought it was a little bit of a dogleg‑left.  It’s eye opening to see it’s just dead‑straight.  That was very, very shocking to me to see it like that.

And how does he feel about this “new” hole?

I loved it the way it was.  That tree, I’ve hit it too many times, trust me.  I’ve had my issues on that hole, that tree.  But I thought it was a fantastic hole.  It’s iconic, that tree, and I don’t think you can ever, ever replace it.

Was there ever a point in his reclamation process that he doubted he was going to get it done?

There were times when there were a few clubs that flew, suddenly slipped out of my hand and traveled some pretty good distances, too.  There were some frustrating moments, but had to stick with it.

It was great to have Chris there and Rob, and we just kept working, shot for shot, hour after hour.

Was it some sort of happy coincidence that all of this timed up just right for the Masters?

I wanted to be back for Arnold’s event.  I love that event.  I love Arnold to death and what he’s meant to me and my life.  I just wasn’t ready.  That was one of the tougher calls I’ve had to make is to tell Arnold I can’t play.  But he was very understanding.  We had a great talk.

Since I wasn’t able to play there, hopefully I would be ready for Augusta and it finally came around.

And he said that if he did not think he was ready in time for the Masters, he would have skipped that too, hard as that would have been.

And finally, with his short game under such scrutiny and the fact that he is one of only three players to successfully defend his title, he went into some good detail about what made Augusta National such a perennial challenge:

This golf course is very, very demanding.  You have to have every facet of your game going.

You know, back in the — actually back in the days before they made the big changes here, the emphasis has become more on driving than it used to be in the past.

I remember Raymond [Floyd] telling me some of the angles I should hit it; you can’t do that anymore.  You just can’t blow it over into certain parts of the golf course you used to to grab an angle.

But it’s just so demanding.  You have to understand how to miss it, how to miss in the correct spot.  You have to have the ability to hit certain chip shots with a draw spin, cut spin, which bounce you want to have it check on.  You have to have all of these different facets of your game going, and just put it all together at the same time.  And it’s hard to do.

Only three guys have done it.  And you’ve seen some of the best players in the world come through here.  It’s just hard.

It will be hard to see on television, but it will be very interesting to look for those different spin patterns on those chip shots.

When you get to the Masters, you’re operating in very rarefied air.

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