US Open: Woods keen to return to winning form

Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the US Open. Picture: Getty
Tiger Woods during a practice round prior to the US Open. Picture: Getty
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IT HAS been five frustrating years for Tiger Woods since he won the most recent of his 14 major titles but the world No 1 says nothing has changed for him in the way he approaches golf’s biggest events.

Asked by reporters at Merion Golf Club yesterday whether the major challenge had been easier for him during his glory days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Woods simply replied: “No.”

He paused as he sat on the stage in a jam-packed media interview room before being prodded to expound. “It wasn’t ever easy,” said Woods, who is a heavy favourite going into this week’s US Open, the second of the year’s four majors.

“I felt it was still difficult because the majority of the majors, three of the four always rotated. It was always on a new site each and every year. Augusta [venue for the Masters] was the only one you could rely on from past experiences. A lot of majors that I won were on either the first or second time I’d seen it, so it was never easy.

“The practice rounds are imperative. Doing scouting trips are very important, just like it is for this week. I had to do all that stuff. But then I have to go out and execute and go out and win an event.”

A three-times US Open champion, winner of 14 major titles and four wins this season on the PGA Tour, Woods is the greatest player of his generation and arguably the best of all time. He said winning never gets old.

“It’s still the same,” added Woods. “It’s still about winning the event. That’s why I played as a junior, all the way through to now, is just to try to kick everyone’s butt. That, to me, is the rush. That’s the fun. That’s the thrill. And it’s been nice to be a part of the mix for 17 years now out here, be a part of a lot of great duels and a lot of great battles. That is why I prepare, why I lift all those weights and put myself through all that.”

Woods looked very relaxed and was in good humour for most of his pre-tournament news conference, at one point breaking into a broad grin when his 22-year-old niece, Cheyenne Woods, working at Merion this week for a TV outlet, asked him what he did off the course to relax during a major.

“Didn’t expect that,” Woods replied. “Well, off the course, we have a great crew at the house and we’re going to have fun. Tomorrow, is it 6:30 dinner? Is that all right? Okay. Perfect.

“I just relax, have a good time and get away from it. When it’s time to play, it’s time to play. When it’s time for me to get ready, I’ll get ready.”

Cheyenne Woods knows her way around a golf course, having turned professional last year after graduating from Wake Forest, recording her first victory in the paid ranks at the SunCoast Ladies Series in August.

The atmosphere became a little tense when Woods was asked about his encounter with Sergio Garcia on the practice range at Merion on Monday.

After a brief exchange, the pair shook hands in their first meeting since Spaniard Garcia made a “fried chicken” reference directed at Woods last month at a European Tour awards dinner. Garcia has since apologised in a statement.

“We didn’t discuss anything,” Woods said of the Merion meeting. “He just came up and said, ‘Hi.’ And that was it.”

Asked whether Garcia had apologised for the ‘fried chicken’ jibe, which is viewed as a racial stereotype, Woods replied: “No. It’s already done. We’ve already gone through it all. It’s time for the US Open and we tee it up in two days.”

Par is usually accepted as a good score by players at US Opens, where the ability to grind and stay patient is a prized commodity on layouts typically running firm and fast and flanked by thick rough. However, Woods is not sure that will be the case this week in rain-softened conditions on a course measuring only 6,996 yards off the back tees at the 113th US Open starting tomorrow.

“I don’t think we have an exact feel for it yet, what we’re going to have to do and what we’re going to have to shoot,” said Woods, who is winless in the majors since his extraordinary play-off victory over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 US Open. “The conditions keep changing.

“We haven’t dealt with teeing it up in a tournament yet with it raining and drying out for a couple of days and the mud balls appearing. That’s going to be interesting.”

Garcia ‘left note’ for Woods

SERGIO Garcia left a hand-written note on Tiger Woods’ locker after being unable to apologise in person when the pair met on the practice range ahead of the US Open at Merion.

Garcia escaped punishment for what could be construed as a racist remark about Woods at the European Tour’s annual awards ceremony last month. During a Q&A session involving the full Ryder Cup team, the 33-year-old was asked if he would invite Woods to dinner one night at Merion to end the feud between them, which resurfaced at the Players Championship.

“We will have him round every night,” Garcia said. “We will serve fried chicken.”

Garcia initially issued an apology overnight for his “silly remark” but was asked by Woods’ agent to wait until the US Open to speak to Woods in person. That occurred on Monday with Woods accepting Garcia’s offered handshake, but the world No 1 said a direct apology was not made.

Last night Garcia said: “We saw each other on the range. I felt it was not the appropriate place, out of respect to him and the other players to do it there, so I was hoping to meet him after the round but he was gone. This morning I was here early and I did not see him around.

“I did leave him a hand-written note and, hopefully, he can take a look at it. It’s a big week and I understand that it’s difficult to meet up. Hopefully, we will be able to but, if not, at least he can read the note and be happy with that. If he wants to show you [the media] the note he can, I don’t have any problem with that. But I am not going to be the one showing.”