Tiger Woods Press Conference Transcript

By Golf Channel NewsroomMarch 26, 2001, 5:00 pm
TIGER WOODS:Well, it's pretty -- I mean, it is special, to be able to win a championship like this, on an extremely demanding golf course, with probably the best field assembled in all of golf -- all of golf for the entire year. It is extremely rewarding to do that. Not only that, to be able to play down the stretch against Jerry and Vijay, two guys that played extremely hard this week. And obviously, I'm just very fortunate enough to come out on top.
Q. When Jimmy Roberts was interviewing you, you, in a way mockingly, brought up the word 'slump.' Were you just having fun with that or are you just sort of sick and tired of the references, week after week in the West Coast?
TIGER WOODS:I was. Some of the writers -- and I know who they are, had suggested and said it. Obviously, they don't really understand the game that well, because if you look at the way I was playing, I wasn't playing that bad. It wasn't like I was missing cuts every week. I was right there with a chance to win in virtually every tournament I teed up in, and I think that's pretty good. It's just that I had not won, and that's part of the game. It is a game that's very fickle. You can try as hard as you want, and sometimes it just doesn't work out. Now I've won two tournaments in a row, and I'm sure they will write about something else.
Q. How much better are you playing now than you were, say, a month ago?
TIGER WOODS:You know, to be honest with you, I don't think I really am hitting the ball any better. I feel like I've gotten on some good greens. I've gotten away from putting on poa. When I went over to Dubai, I got on some good greens and I knew I was putting well, and next thing you know, I got it going. I really have not hit the ball that much better. I've just got on some nice greens -- where my putting stroke, how I'm rolling it, I'm getting rewarded for making good putts.
Q. At any time were you aware of the misfortune that happened to Vijay and the fact that he came back?
TIGER WOODS:I was aware that -- I assumed he made triple, but when you are out there, sometimes, you know, the electronic scoring boards sometimes are wrong. I figured: It's probably wrong, and go ahead and play it like I've only got a one-shot lead. I've got a lot of trouble ahead of me, and I probably need to make at least one birdie coming in, possibly two, so at least put yourself in a position to go ahead and do that. When I saw the board on 15, I figured, well, 20 minutes has gone by. It's hard to have two boards wrong. So more than likely, he probably had made a mistake on 14. I knew he had made eagle, because of the roar over on 16 green when we were up on the tee -- obviously, just because he lives here with the hometown crowd. I don't think that would have been a roar for Scott.
Q. Now that we have buried the 'slump,' let's move on to the Masters. How will you prepare, and how do you feel about your game going into this year's tournament?
TIGER WOODS:I feel pretty good. My practice sessions this week have been pretty good. My short game, I feel as if -- I'm pretty happy with it. The shots I was working on this week before Augusta, I felt that I'm very pleased on some of the shots, and I will continue to probably work on the most important thing at Augusta, and that's control your trajectory, and hopefully that will get a little bit better.
Q. It could not have been as easy as you made it look today, because pressure was coming at you from all over, and the course could not have played easy -- I wonder your thoughts?
TIGER WOODS:The course definitely was not playing easy. I had to hit the golf shots where I wanted to and how I wanted to. For the most part, I was able to do that. I thought the most important thing starting out the day was to get the ball in play, keep it in the fairway on every hole. And from there, if you have a situation where it is -- you can attack, go ahead. But more than likely, you are going to have to try to play it off a slope, off a bank here. That's what I was able to do, the first hole, the 10th hole. I ripped a 3-wood and had a chip 7-iron, and I hit it behind the hole because I knew I had that backboard there. I was just trying to play the flag five yards beyond to roll back. And that's what happened; I hit it about three yards past, and it rolled back.
Q. Just talk about what you were thinking when the ball was in the air on 17 and where you were playing the ball, how much farther left were you trying to hit it?
TIGER WOODS:I was trying to aim it on the slope there and hit a punch fade and bleed it over there to the flag. That's what I did. I actually hit the punch fade. I was pleased the way I hit it. I knew when I hit it, I hit the ball the right distance. From there, it is up to the bounce. I hit it soft over there and rolled, and I got a horrible lie over there. I was just trying to get it somewhere within six or eight feet for par, and I was able to do that. Yeah, my ball was up against a hazard line. If a ball is touching the hazard line, it is deemed to be in the hazard.
Q. (Inaudible.)
TIGER WOODS:I have felt like -- as if I was playing some pretty good golf over the last few months. It's just that you need to have some good breaks come your way. I think that's what has happened the last couple of weeks. I've had some shots that were kind of borderline that turned out all right, where I was able to make pars or birdies, and you need to have those kind of breaks. You cannot always play well. You have to have a little luck on your side, and I think that is what has transpired over the last couple weeks.
Q. In theory, breaks are all supposed to even out. Like last week at 18 and this week at 17, the ball rolls right up onto the hazard line. Do you think that works on guys' minds sometimes that they say, 'Not only is he good, but he gets every break; he's also lucky'?
TIGER WOODS:You know, I think if you keep putting yourself there, time and time again, you are going to get your good breaks. You're going to also get your bad breaks, too. I've hit some shots on the West Coast I thought were pretty good that just haven't really turned out very good at all, but that's just part of the game. You have to understand that, accept it, and move on. When you get a good break, you have to capitalize on it, because obviously, getting a good break and capitalizing on it more than likely will give you some big-time momentum, and I think that's what's happened.
Q. If you were writing a list of possible winners at Augusta, how long would that list be?
TIGER WOODS:The field.
Q. (Inaudible.)
TIGER WOODS:The field.
Q. (Inaudible.)
TIGER WOODS:The field. (Laughter.)
Q. How eager have you been for Augusta to get here this year, and do you feel that you are on pace where you are peaking for Augusta?
TIGER WOODS:I feel as if I'm headed in the right direction, no doubt about that. The shots that I am hitting now, I feel very pleased at what I am able to do on the golf course. I'm pleased at the changes I've made in my game, and they are starting to come together, which is nice. It's nice to see a lot of hard work paying off. That's what it's about.
Q. Have you been eager for, you know -- people have been anticipating --?
TIGER WOODS:Yeah, I figured that. (Laughs). But in all honesty, I'm going to treat it just like I do every major: Just go in there with the same mindset, the same game plan, play as hard as I can, try on every shot, and hopefully, I will have a chance coming down the back nine on Sunday. That's something -- you can't really look at the fact that I have a chance to win four consecutive majors. Obviously, that is true. But it's like what I told all of you guys at the British Open. Yeah, I have a chance to win the Grand Slam, the career Grand Slam, but that's kind of a by-product of winning the golf tournament, and that's what I'm going to try and do. I'm going to try and win the golf tournament.
Q. On this Grand Slam issue, a lot of players who think it would not be a Grand Slam say that you are rewriting history from the way that Arnold designed it way back in 1960, which was to win all four in one year. When you first thought of 'Grand Slam' did you think of it in one calendar year?
TIGER WOODS:Yeah, I did. But looking at the trophies that I have on my mantle, three are lined up. Put another one on there, it looks pretty good. (Laughter.)
Q. Where do you keep them in your house?
TIGER WOODS:On top of my fireplace.
Q. Where's the '97 Masters trophy?
TIGER WOODS:Right in the middle. I've got all five -- all six lined up. My U.S. Amateur trophy. I had a replica made with my name on it three times.
Q. I know it has only been an hour, but has your perception of this tournament changed any now that you've won?
TIGER WOODS:I've always thought this has been a big tournament, so that hasn't changed. I think it's exciting to be able to play in a field this deep and to be able to come out on top. But my perception has not changed, no. This is a big tournament. And like everybody is saying, it's probably the fifth major.
Q. Was there much conversation on what to hit on 18?
TIGER WOODS:18 tee? No. He didn't say one word. (Laughter.) He was not about to say one word, either.
Q. So that was a 2-iron?
TIGER WOODS:A little chip 2-iron, keep it down the right side somewhere. If it goes in the rough, so be it.
Q. Was Vijay the guy that you thought would be the toughest challenger going into today with you?
TIGER WOODS:To be honest with you, I had to believe that it was either -- it had to be three players, because I thought three players had a chance to win besides myself. If Bernhard had got off to a quick start, he's right back in the ball game. Jerry is playing with me. If he makes a couple putts, obviously he's right there. Vijay, with his length, and I know he can make some birdies out there. I had to get off to a good start myself. And from there, whoever came out of the pack, so be it. But I had to take care of my own business first.
Q. Aside from the drive, perhaps, on 18 in the third round, do you feel that you made any mistakes this week?
TIGER WOODS:Mistakes? Yeah.
Q. Aside from errant shots. Judgments or reads? Did you make a blunder this week?
TIGER WOODS:Probably the only blunder I probably made was trying to keep the blade too open coming down on my second shot into No. 11. I was up against the first cut -- up against the high stuff in the first cut of rough, and I tried to hit a hot one up there in the bunker somewhere. And I had to protect against the rough catching it and then hitting a quick hook, and I tried to keep the blade open. I came down and I kept the blade too open, and I hit it straight right, right in the water.
LEE PATTERSON: Can you go over your birdies, eagles and par save, possibly.
TIGER WOODS:Yesterday, I hit 2-iron off the first tee. I hit a 9-iron to about eight feet and made that. No. 2, I hit a driver down the left side of the rough. Hit a 3-iron that rolled up short of the green and pitched in from about 30 yards or so. Bogeyed 7. Hit driver way right. I had a 9-iron from 150; didn't hit it solid. I hit it a little thin and caught the tree, up in the first bunker. Hit a wonderful bunker shot up there and just missed it. On 9, hit a driver right down the middle. Hit a mud ball 5-iron up there. Had a sand wedge from 95 yards to the hole, and hit it about ten feet below the hole and made that. Starting out today, hit a 3-wood off the first tee -- I'm sorry, 10th tee. Hit a 7-iron in to about six inches. No. 12, I hit a 3-wood off the tee and pulled it just a little bit, really flush; got it past the corner. I had 60 yards to the hole. Hit a 60-degree sand wedge to about eight feet and made that. 16, I hit a 3-wood off the tee. I hit it up in the first cut of rough. I had -- what did I have in there? I had 210 to the hole. I hit a little 7-iron in there pin-high. Lipped it out from about 40 feet. 18, I hit a 2-iron off the right side of the rough. Hit a 60-degree sand wedge, just kind of down the fairway somewhere. I had 135 to the hole. Hit a pitching wedge that landed 131 and spun back down the shelf, and I 2-putted from about 20 feet.
Q. The club at 17?
Q. Paul was telling Jerry after the third round, he said he didn't know he was that good of a player. Can you just comment on your thoughts about Jerry, how he played yesterday and today?
TIGER WOODS:I think Jerry is one heck of a competitor. I think the work he's done, obviously, changing his swing has really worked. And he went out there and played hard this week. He got it going. He kept it going for most of the week. Today might have been a little different story if he would have made a couple of those putts. He came so close on the putts. He hit great putts: On 10, he left right in the middle. 11, he just burned the edge. 12, he burned the edge. He just hit good putts. They just didn't go in.
Q. In your mind, what would now be the most significant event that you have not won?
TIGER WOODS:What I haven't won? Well, I think I've had a pretty good career. (Smiles.) I think it is going to be fun to try and win the same tournaments again, and hopefully it will be, obviously, the majors, hopefully.
Q. Today, was the most heat you felt when you saw Vijay make birdie on 17, knowing then that he had closed it? Was that the moment that you felt things were coming to a head and you were standing on 16 green?
TIGER WOODS:When I saw him, I knew he was going to make the putt. He only had six feet or so. That's a gimmee for him on these greens. I knew if I could make -- obviously, if I 2-putted, I've got a two-shot lead, which means if I go par, par, he's going to have to do something spectacular on 18. My mindset when I hit that putt down there, I don't know how that putt didn't go in. It was such a pure putt. It was a triple-breaker. It was just hit -- I knew I hit it the right pace. I just needed to get it down there. And it would have been nice to be able to top Vijay; Vijay makes birdie and loses a shot. That's how I was thinking when the ball was going down there.
Q. When your ball landed on 17 and starts popping and spinning back to the right, does your stomach drop at all?
TIGER WOODS:To be honest, I thought it was going to be up against the collar, because I didn't think it was spinning enough to end up where it did. I was kind of surprised it ended up where it did. I knew I hit it the right distance. I knew when I hit the shot it was the right distance. From there, I saw it bounce, and I said, 'No big deal,' and I saw it go a little right. Obviously, because the fringe -- the green is tilted over there , and on the fringe line the green is tilted left-to-right. Ball skipped up and then caught the fringe; the fringe is sloping left-to-right, so it kind of just spun down the slope. But it lands and kicks on the green, it actually feeds itself back towards the hole.
Q. Seven years ago, you won your first Amateur here. Can you just analyze, or just review where you've come and where the -- how different the course is and how different you are in seven years?
TIGER WOODS:When I won the Amateur here, it was a little different philosophy off the tees. I was just taking driver out, hit it down there somewhere and I knew I could make par. Hopefully, I could get on the green and make a putt. This time out, I can shape shots a little bit better. I know I can hit iron shots a little better. But the golf course then was playing just incredibly dry and fast. It was all Bermuda. Big-time grain in all of these putts. It was about 95, 98 every day, playing 36 holes. It was hot, humid. Even then, I was, what, probably 145 pounds -- even I lost weight then. It was a little different for a kid from the West Coast coming out and dealing with all of the heat and humidity, all the bugs.
Q. I'm sure you're aware that no player has won this tournament and the Masters in the same year. Do you have an explanation for this jinx and any game plan?
TIGER WOODS:That's just the way it is. A lot of guys have played well here and just haven't played well at Augusta. That's just part of the game. You know, you try as hard as you can, and sometimes it isn't going to work.
Q. Do you think this tournament takes too much out of you and you don't have anything left two weeks later?
TIGER WOODS:Two weeks, that's a long time.
Q. Off the subject, a few of the other golfers have said that the stock market plunging has been a major topic of conversation. Have you been keeping track of that, and I'm wondering, how depressing is it?
TIGER WOODS:Is it depressing? You know, that's one of the reasons why you diversify yourself. (Laughter.)
Q. The short game work you did this morning, was that Augusta-related, too?
TIGER WOODS:A couple of shots, I actually was thinking about it, yeah. Not too many, though.
Q. Did you work on any shots for PLAYERS Championship a few weeks before coming out here?
TIGER WOODS:Yeah, at home in Isleworth and at Bay Hill. Because we have our greens -- like I was talking to Mark, and right now the greens are running at 13 to 14 on the Stimp back home.
Q. Wondering what your Augusta schedule is, as far as when you are getting there?
TIGER WOODS:More than likely probably before Thursday. (Laughs). Probably either Monday or Tuesday I'll come up.
Q. As you reflect back on the week, how big was that putt on 17 on Saturday, and where does that rank among the big putts you've made in your career?
TIGER WOODS:For what was going on, probably not that big of a deal. But just for pure distance and a lot of luck involved, yeah, it was a big putt. But I figure I've made other big putts to win tournaments, but that one was not to win a tournament. I was just trying to put myself in position to win a tournament. So, there's a big difference. I have made some cross-country putts like that, that in all honesty, really don't mean a whole lot. When you come down the stretch on Sunday and you have to make a putt from six or eight feet -- I think that putt I made today on 17 was a bigger putt than that long bomb.
Q. That's three victories in two years on Mondays. Do you follow the same routine in Sunday night situations like this that you do any other night during a tournament?
TIGER WOODS:Yeah. I went home and I just kind of relaxed a little bit and ordered dinner. Had dinner in the room and just passed out. Slept great. Got up this morning. Did a little workout and came out here and played.
Q. And you're over the Stanford loss?
TIGER WOODS:Am I over it? No. It is disappointing. But you know what, those kids tried and they gave it everything they had. It's just they ran into a great team in Maryland that shot very well in that game. That's what happens. That's part of playing sports. You put yourself there, and hopefully, they can put themselves there again, and maybe it might be a different story.
Q. In view of your diversity in the stock market, if you have to widen that mantle at home, can you do that and make room for more trophies or do you have enough room there?
TIGER WOODS:I have enough room.
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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

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Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.

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Woods (70) better in every way on Day 1 at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 8:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Consider it a sign of the times that Tiger Woods was ecstatic about an even-par score Thursday at the Honda Classic.

It was by far his most impressive round in this nascent comeback.

Playing in a steady 20-mph wind, Woods was better in all facets of the game Thursday at PGA National. Better off the tee. Better with his irons. And better on and around the “scratchy” greens.

He hung tough to shoot 70 – four shots better than his playing partner, Patton Kizzire, a two-time winner this season and the current FedExCup leader – and afterward Woods said that it was a “very positive” day and that he was “very solid.”

It’s a small sample size, of course – seven rounds – but Woods didn’t hesitate in declaring this “easily” his best ball-striking round of the year.

And indeed it was, even if the stats don’t jump off the page.

Officially, he hit only seven of 14 fairways and just 10 greens, but some of those misses off the tee were a few paces into the rough, and some of those iron shots finished just off the edge of the green.

The more telling stat was this: His proximity to the hole (28 feet) was more than an 11-foot improvement over his first two starts this year. And also this: He was 11th among the early starters in strokes gained-tee to green, which measures a player’s all-around ball-striking. Last week, at Riviera, he ranked 121st.

“I felt very comfortable,” he said. “I felt like I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways, and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air.

“I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

The Champion Course here at PGA National is the kind of course that magnifies misses and exposes a player if he’s slightly off with his game. There is water on 15 of the 18 holes, and there are countless bunkers, and it’s almost always – as it was Thursday – played in a one- or two-club wind. Even though it’s played a half hour from Woods’ compound in Hobe Sound, the Honda wasn’t thought to be an ideal tune-up for Woods’ rebuilt game.

But maybe this was just what he needed. He had to hit every conceivable shot Thursday, to shape it both ways, high and low, and he executed nearly every one of them.

The only hole he butchered was the par-5 third. With 165 yards for his third shot, he tried to draw a 6-iron into a stiff wind. He turned it over a touch too much, and it dropped into the bunker. He hit what he thought was a perfect bunker shot, but it got caught in the overseeded rye grass around the green and stayed short. He chipped to 3 feet and then was blown off-balance by a wind gust. Double.

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But what pleased Woods most was what he did next. Steaming from those unforced errors, he was between a 2- and 3-iron off the tee. He wanted to leave himself a 60-degree wedge for his approach into the short fourth hole, but a full 2-iron would have put him too close to the green.

So he took a little off and “threw it up in the air” – 292 yards.

“That felt really good,” Woods said, smiling. And so did the 6-footer that dropped for a bounce-back birdie.

"I feel like I'm really not that far away," he said. 

To illustrate just how much Woods’ game has evolved in seven rounds, consider this perspective from Brandt Snedeker.

They played together at Torrey Pines, where Woods somehow made the cut despite driving it all over the map. In the third round, Woods scraped together a 70 while Snedeker turned in a 74, and afterward Snedeker said that Woods’ short game was “probably as good or better than I ever remember it being.”

A month later, Snedeker saw significant changes. Woods’ short game is still tidy, but he said that his iron play is vastly improved, and it needed to be, given the challenging conditions in the first round.

“He controlled his ball flight really well and hit a bunch of really good shots that he wasn’t able to hit at Torrey, because he was rusty,” said Snedeker, who shot 74. “So it was cool to see him flight the ball and hit some little cut shots and some little three-quarter shots and do stuff I’m accustomed to see him doing.”

Conditions are expected to only get more difficult, more wind-whipped and more burned out, which is why the winning score here has been single-digits under par four of the past five years.

But Woods checked an important box Thursday, hitting the shots that were required in the most difficult conditions he has faced so far.

Said Snedeker: “I expect to see this as his baseline, and it’ll only get better from here.”