Tiger Woods spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the Zozo Championship. It was Woods’ first big media event since the U.S. Open and most likely (more on that later) his final big presser before Masters Week. The defending champ didn’t drop any bombshells, but if we take a closer look I think we can find some interesting nuggets. Here are 10 quotes from Tiger Woods — and what they mean.
1. The quote: “I don’t know if I’m going to play Houston or not. I’m not playing next week, and we’ll see how this week goes and make a decision from there.”
What it means: Wait, what?! Tiger Woods might play the Houston Open the week before the Masters? And he’s volunteering that information? I think what this means is that he might play the Houston Open. I wouldn’t bet on it — everything about Woods’ habits suggest he’d skip an unfamiliar tournament the week before a major — but still, the fact that he’s considering it shows he may value the competitive reps and is looking for a pre-Augusta edge.
2. The quote: “Well, distance has always been an advantage. Now that we have the tools, that being the launch monitor, the fitting of the golf clubs, the adjustability. I think all that plays into the fact that you’re able to maximize the capabilities of a driver.”
What it means: It means that Woods is well aware that one of his initial advantages was his tremendous length, and that one of Jack Nicklaus’ big advantages was his length, too, and the same goes for Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy and Bryson DeChambeau these days. Now that he’s faded to the Tour’s middle of the pack in driving distance, it’s easy to forget that Woods used to hit it 30 and 40 yards past his playing partners. Now that every pro has easy access to the tech Tiger is referencing, the process of gaining distance has gotten far more efficient. More on this later.
3. The quote: “I have played there in November. And the few times that I have played in November, it’s been the same. It’s been cold, ball doesn’t go very far.”
What it means: It means that Woods agrees with what we’ve heard from Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples and a few others: Augusta National plays long in the north wind and November chill. He referenced going to Augusta after the big course changes in 2001 — the “Tiger-proofing” — and finding a much longer course. He hit driver, 3-wood into No. 1. He hit driver, 3-wood into No. 18. We doubt he’ll hit 3-wood into any par-4s this year, but his point stands: Augusta in November is a different animal.
4. The quote: “Davis and I were paired together the final round of ’98 and Jack made a run. We were the group ahead. We knew it was Jack behind us, but the roars were so much louder than — those were Nicklaus roars.”
What it means: For one thing, it means Woods is too modest to cite any of his own roars as the “biggest ever.” For another, it’s a reminder just how long Woods has been a factor at Augusta National; he’s been there long enough to remember Nicklaus contending as a 58-year-old in 1998.
5. The quote: “That’s one of the neat things about playing at Augusta, is that you don’t have people yelling, you know, ‘Congrats, you got the ball in the air,’ or whatever it is. It’s so different.”
What it means: That somehow neither “mashed potatoes” nor “Get in the hole!” is Woods’ least-favorite crowd scream — but also that he very much hears the hecklers, even when he pretends he doesn’t. Also, that he prefers Augusta National’s version of a gallery.
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6. The quote: “My game’s definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open.”
What it means: Three options here: 1. That Woods’ game is definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open. 2. That Woods thinks his game is better than it was at the U.S. Open, even though it isn’t — but still, that confidence is a good thing. Or 3. That Woods doesn’t think his game is better than it was at the U.S. Open but thinks it’s easier to say so anyway, because saying that all is well leads to fewer questions, not more. Really, this doesn’t tell us much, except that Woods is talking an optimistic game. Here’s hoping he’s right.
7. The quote: “I think Augusta’s just like any other part of the world. It has changed, it has evolved. Yes, it has had some roots that I don’t think that everyone’s very proud of, but it has evolved. We have minority members now, it’s more diverse. And just like anything, it evolves. And Augusta certainly has, and I’m sure it will continue to.”
What it means: That Woods recognizes the complex, less-than-perfect history of golf’s most famous course. For Woods, a black golfer, Augusta would have been a decidedly unwelcoming place until recent decades. But it’s also a place that’s been hugely important to him both personally and professionally. There’s a complex duality there and Woods nearly always chooses to stick to the positive, optimistic side of the story.
8. The quote: “There are a couple spots where generally there is a little lack of sand, and normally on the back of 12, where there are those two bunkers, the left one has a little bit less sand.”
What it means: That Tiger Woods knows Augusta National scarily well. That he has an unparalleled attention to detail. That he recognizes patterns over time. That’s he’s obsessed with every single advantage that could help him win another Masters. And also that even at Augusta National, the place with the famous bright-white sand, the bunkers still aren’t perfect.
9. The quote: “She played golf when I was very little. We played at Heartwell and we would go out there and play together.”
What it means: We’ve heard for decades about Tiger Woods’ father Earl and his golf game. It’s far more rare that we hear about the career of Tiger’s mother Tida. Heartwell is the 18-hole par-3 course (just over 2,000 yards in all) where Woods first learned under the tutelage of Rudy Duran. Tida still occasionally putts in the backyard with him and his kids, Woods said, but she doesn’t swing the club anymore. Still, he added, “she still loves being a part of it.” We knew that much from the hug at last year’s Masters.
10. The quote: “They should have been worried a long time ago, but the genie’s out of the bag now.”
What it means: That Woods has taken a side on the distance debate, and he’s staying there. The ball goes too far, he thinks, now that so many golfers can fly the ball 320 yards or more, and, as he put it, “it’s not just a few of them.”
He recognizes the complexities, now, of doing anything to address the issue. “I just don’t see how they can roll everything back,” he said. “When do you bifurcate — at what level?” he added. “It’s only going to continue.”
That was Woods’ parting shot. He finished by answering a question to the Japanese audience, citing their level excitement watching him and playing partner Hideki Matsuyama, and then he was off to prep. Enough talk. Time to play.