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Tiger on the comeback trail

DUBAI, March 2-In an exclusive interview with CNN's Living Golf, Tiger Woods admits that he wasn't prepared physically or mentally for his comeback at last year's Masters, but that he's psychologically stronger now and his life is much more balanced.

Speaking to Living Golf’s Shane O’Donoghue in Dubai, Woods says he’s still determined to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors – but adds that his children are the most important thing in his life: "Being present for your kids is far more valuable than anything you do".

SD: Tiger welcome to Living Golf. Great to have you here in Dubai. Must be nice to be back.

TW: Thank you. it is it is… thank you

SD: What about you and your golf game right now? Where are you?

TW: obviously making changes, so.. Still in the process, sort of learning and trying to refine it.

SD: so you are working with Sean Foley, sounds like he-s got Irish connections, but he’s a coach with a great reputation. Talk to us about the work you’re doing together.

TW: well, it’s quite a bit. You know, it’s learning a different philosophy from what I had with Hank and it just takes time. He’s very energetic, he knows a lot about a lot. Very well read. Its fun to pick his brain from a lot of different subjects.

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SD: Who’s driving who harder?

TW: He doesn’t have to worry about driving me, that’s for sure. Trying to get where I know how can play the game… the level I know I can play it, and certainly he’s  trying to get me there.

SD: So what kind of work are you doing together? Is it full long, for weeks at the time, certainly in advance of tournaments, when you are getting your real preparation together?

TW: Not necessarily, cuz he still travels quite a bit, you know, with the guys on tour.  ?? Works with other players, so it’s trying to get time here and there, we don’t need a lot of time together, cuz we are working on the same things, and I seem to get better at doing it.

SH: what’s it like to be back now, because it looks like you’re gonna have a full calendar this year of events that you wish to play in.

TW: absolutely! Its something I was looking forward to! I was looking forward to it and sort of getting into the rhythm of playing, playing events, preparing for events, and it’s going to be fun!

SD: you are always very focused on the majors, you’ve got those 14th obviously in the bag… how much desire is still there with you when it comes to matching Jack’s total of 18 and perhaps beyond.

TW: Well, I’m not trying to match it, that’s for sure! Trying to get there, trying to get past it, so … it takes times! It took Jack over 20 years to get to where he’s at… and been out here a little bit, but still need to make improvements, to get more efficient on what I’m doing, its about giving myself plenty of opportunities.

SD: so what specifically are you working on in your whole game at the moment? Is it all through the bag, where are you right now?

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TW: we’ll work on the grip takeaway, arm position, body position, the way back, the way down, through positions, footwork, a lot of stuff.

SD: and the short game in particular is always an area that you have exceled at…  where do you see yourself right now?

TW:  well I’ve made a change there as well, because I don’t want to have two different swings, so having the full swing, the short game has got to mimic what I’m doing full swing, so I’ve had to make of a bit of change there as well, and the same with the potting stroke.

SD: the putting is obviously somewhere you have been really dominant. At the moment obviously it’s maybe perhaps a weaker area of your game that you want to improve on. What are you doing exactly with your putting?

TW:  I putted a while last time I played in, Tory and I really hit a lot of good putts. Had one good day… Actually couple good days where I really putted well, but that’s not something I’m really worried right now. I feel like I’m rolling it pretty good, I’m hitting all my lines, so that’s something I didn’t do last year. Didn’t had the right speed, wasn’t hitting my lines properly, but last tournament I played a couple of weeks ago, was very good.

SD: you’ve been described by Peter Thompson, the five time open champion, as the greatest 20-foot potter, of all time! Its something that you clearly relish when it comes to the crunch, and when it comes to those very pressure situations.. You’ve always seemed to deliver! Is that something you can tap into and bring to the surface the next time you get into contention?

TW: its certainly not always I’ve made those putts. There certainly a lot more than I’ve made, but I think the key is always enjoying the position, and specially on the last couple of holes where you’ve got to make a putt. That’s fun. That’s why we play, that’s why we compete, that’s why we practice so hard… is to be on that position. I’ve made a few here and there over my career.

SD: You’ve certainly have! Now, at the moment we are supposed talking about those who have come through the Tiger era, those who have looked up to you as youngsters, and they are coming through the real elite ones like Rory Mcllroy,  Ryo Ishikawa, Rickie Fowler,  obviously , we’ve got Noh Seung Yul here, from Korea. What you make of these younger players, the younger generation? (stumbles on words)

TW: I would have to say that this new crop of players, they are just longer. They hit the ball certainly a lot further than what I used to, but also the generation right before me! We had a lot of guys like a Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard, who are shorter hitters, but have managed their game really well and got around the golf course. All these kids hit the ball long way. Some of them do work the golf ball, but a lot of them just pound it out there. It’s a different game. Guys don’t maneuver the golf ball like they used to. The ball doesn’t move as much. So, movement now is not necessarily shape, more into trajectories changes, I’ve seen Ryo hit the ball pretty high, but he tries to play different shots. Some guys try to play different shots, some guys don’t. It will be interesting to see how these guys mature and see what happens.

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SD: Have you played with most of them now?

TW: the only one I haven’t played was Kaymer  I think that’s the only one I have not played with, and will be playing with him obviously in two days.

SD: what’s it like being in this position now, with regard to the world rankings? He’s at number two, potentially could go to number one. Lee is the new number one at the moment. They kind of took over your mantle. I’m sure it’s only temporary, with regard to your competitive zeal, but how do you feel about the world rankings and maybe losing that top spot?

TW:  I lost it because I didn’t win. Plain simple. You have to win, you have to be consistence and Lee did that. Before him was VJ, and I guess before him was Duvall. That’s how he got there.  You get to number one by finishing high in a lot of events, but you also have to win and that’s certainly something I didn’t do and obviously Lee has done.

SD: but is this something that you aspire to now, perhaps this year is one of your goals to get back to that number one position?

TW: my goals are just to win gold tournaments. And that will take care of it self. Winning golf tournaments, winning major championships, that will all take care of it self.

SD: The masters is obviously on the horizon and you made an incredible comeback there last year. How did you do that, given it all taken place, to be able to raise your game and perform the way the way you did.

TW: I still don’t know how I did that! I think it helped to come back to a golf course that I know. I know how to play it, I know here I need to put the golf ball, I know each and every flag, I know how to play it. And that helped… that helped a lot.

SD: have you thought about though what took, I mean, have you analyzed how you managed to actually just bring it all together for that just one week, given the lack of tournament play.

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TW:  yeah, that was hard! That was very hard, because I wasn’t as prepared physically or mentally for the event, but like I said, I came back to a golf course that I had success on, and I knew how to play it. And of all the golf courses that we play, St Andrews and probably Augusta are the two golf courses you’ve have to know how to play. You just can’t go there and just hit the golf ball and expect to shoot good numbers. You have to know how to maneuver yourself around the golf course. Coming back to Augusta was nice in that regard.

SD: what about when it comes to the masters now, you talk about these young bombers who are out there on tour, you think that might change Augusta to cope with them in the future?

TW: Well, I think they have done that! They’ve done that! They have certainly putted in more length, they’ve added the second cut, they’ve cut the grain now into us, instead of down grain, or in split grain like they used to, the fairway length has increased, they don’t cut the grass tight as they used to, all of this as slowed the ball down, to forced us to hit longer clubs  into the greens, and they have done that. If you look into the scores, it reflects that. They haven’t been as low, on Sunday they do move a few tease on the back ninth, trying to get us a chance to make great eagles or make some more birdies. But generally the first three days or first three and half days, its tough, and the guys don’t really make a lot of birdies.

SD: there is a special air about the masters, thought it’s a unique tournament, obviously you’ve won it 4 times, it’s been a while, 2005 since you’ve won last, how badly do you want to win another green jacket?

TW: Always! I mean that’s something.. that’s fun to win that tournament. Ive enjoyed my wins in the past. It’s a lot of fun, let me tell you what. Its fun to come up to the 18th green, when I knew I was going to win versus when I have to something in order to win. To enjoy that walk up to 18, it’s unlike no any other place.

SD: In 1996 when you were still an amateur, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklas both reckon that you would equal or better their combine total, which made 10 green jackets, 10 masters titles. So you’re on your way there, I mean, are you disappointed that you haven’t won more at this stage giving that maybe 15 years ago that they came out with that statement.

TW: that would be 10 out of 15 that would have been pretty good! I’ve put myself there in a lot of occasions, I’ve been there on the hunt, and that’s something one’s has to do in order to win these events. You don’t just win a lot by not putting yourself there. Jacks been there more times than any other person, he has some many seconds, and the reason that he has so many wins is that he was there more than anybody else. That what you have to do!

SD: you obviously relish, though, being contention for the masters. You’ve come close in many Sundays since your last win in 2005. Any regrets about some of them that may have slipped by?

TW: absolutely! You know, the year that my dad passed away I pressed to hard on that back 9, trying to make more puts cuz I knew that it was the last time my dad would ever watch me play, and I made certainly too many mistakes on that back 9 and cost me the championship! That’s something I will always remember! And it’s certainly one night , if there’s one that I do regret, is that one!

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SD: you speak of 2006  and Mickleson’s victory there. There’s a rivalry that still continues, a lot focuses on the younger players, but u certainly do, the pair of you, bring the crowds o the tournaments. Is that a rivalry that you enjoy?

TW: I think we both have. We both enjoyed it! We’ve been going at it for a very long time, Actually ironically enough I’ve probably played more head to head duels with Ernie than what I’ve had with phil. Ernie and I have played all around the world, and we have gone more head to head. But Phil been more domestic, and his playing schedule, and we butted heads obviously a bunch of times in the States, but as far as a global scale and the number of times I’ve actually played Ernie, more than Phil.

SD: can we talk briefly about your comeback, if you will, late last year certainly with a wonderful performance in the singles of the Ryder Cup, and then running Graeme McDowell so close in the Chevron looked pretty much in the bag for you, but, there must have been a great buzz to be back in the take of it and to be doing the things that you renowned for doing.

TW: it felt good! it certainly felt good! It felt good to implement some of the things that Sean and I were working on, and have it showed up on tournaments. I was doing this in practice but I hadn’t been doing it on tournament, and actually have it happen in golf tournaments was nice, cuz I hadn’t done it all year! I was really struggling, I was playing pretty poorly, made a few changes, made a few tweaks, and at the Ryder Cup it kinda switch, kinda was able of put it together, and played some pretty good golf after that. Not quite where we want to, where we wanna get to, what I know I can do, but certainly headin’ on the right direction!

SD: Got to ask you about Chevron though, and what Graeme McDowell Your thoughts on that final round and specially those killers putts that he managed to get into!

TW: Yeah, actually I probably wasn’t the putts that did it. Probably up and down he made a 17, he hit it in the bush and looked like he was going to make double. he makes boogie and I miss my put for birdie. I think that would probably iced it! Gave him the opportunity to play 18, he made birdie, I made birdie, and he made birdie on the playoff! But I think probably 17 was actually the one that did it . that sorta swinged the momentum  and gave him a little bit of life playing on the 18th.

SD: What was it like walking away from that tournament? I mean, you came so close, and everyone obviously wanted to see you back in there (??) you’ve proved that, but not to walk away with the W as you call it…

TW: that was truly disappointing! I had a four shot lead and I certainly blew it! But the whole year for me physically when it comes to make golf shots came down to the last whole. When I needed the most, I needed to obviously use my new swing and I hitted to three feet, and for me the whole work of the whole year came down to one golf shot, and that was kinda of cool! Kinda had moments like that on my career, working with Hank, working with Butch , we hit one golf shot and say: “ok, now I know how to build on this one, cuz it happened when I needed to happen!” So that was good! Looking forward to turning the page, the sheer of playing and building, I had that one to rely on, cuz I’ve done it before.

SD: How busy is your life right now?

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TW: pretty busy, pretty busy! It’s a fun busy though.

SD: And when it comes to your kids and everything that I got similar to you, four year old and a two year old, a girl and a boy… they demand a lot of attention… so how do you juggle it when you are at home you’re looking after your kids and getting on with your practice and preparing as you do, for your tournaments?

TW: It’s all about them! Whatever they wanna do we do. Obviously when I don’t have them that’s when I can practice a little more, but when I’m around them, it’s all about them!

SD: And what they are into? Are they into golf at all?

TW: Charlie likes to play a little bit. Sam’s different. She’s more creative, more artsy, so… two very different people…

SD:  but you just love spending time with them, obviously.

TW: Absolutely! It’s the greatest thing in the world! I mean… It really is!

SD: I mean, you have stated that to be a great father is much more important than winning major titles.

TW: absolutely. Being present for your kids is far more valuable than anything you do. To be around them, to be with them and help them grow… to share these experiences with them… it’s something so special!

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SD: do they know what dad does? Do they know what kind of a star dad is?

TW: Dad plays golf! That’s about it! That’s all they know!

SD: Okay, Great! Now when it comes to getting ready for this season, how prepared are you with regard to your schedule? Is it  prone to fluctuation change or is it pretty rigid?

TW: It’ll change here and there. It’s a schedule I’m not familiar with and something I know to prepare for events and something that I think its gonna help me do it!

SD: And with regard to you psychologically, mentally, you know you are renowned to this great focus, this great competitive zeal, this drive on the course, personally how are you fairing with everything that’s gone on and looking ahead into the future?

TW:  we’ve moved on, we’ve moved forward. Its about getting my life in a balance and that’s been good! it feels good!

SD: And you’re feeling much better than say 12 months ago, when you where just about to get back into playing  a bit of golf.

TW: Absolutely!  My life is certainly a lot more balanced where it needs to be now, than it was then.

SD: And how important are major titles in Tiger Woods golfing life?

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TW: as far as the golfer is everything! Because that what we play to, that’s what we aspire to, is to win major championships. And that’s what, as a player that’s what you are judged by. You can win events all over the world, you could win 100 events, but its what you do on the biggest ones!

SD: so you want to get back winning as soon as possible, I’m sure! You’ll take perhaps a victory here in Dubai, you’ve won on this course before… do you feel ready to win?

TW: Absolutely!

SD:  We saw in Torrey Pines you were obviously working out a lot, that was very recently!  So, how much more improvement have you done in that time to actually get yourself ready and able to win?We’ve identified some of the things I was doing! I overdid a couple of things, and that was actually good. Because now we could dial back a little bit, and we had some really good practice sessions this week.

SD: Well, we wish you the very best of luck and it’s been a pleasure to talking to you. Thanks for joining us!

TW:  You got it, anytime!


Shane O’Donoghue is the host of CNN’s golf monthly programme ‘Living Golf’.

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