Tiger Woods On eve of U.S. Open at Oakmont, players weigh the golf course and their chances

The day before the first round of any U.S. Open is fraught is uncertainty: Players, getting in their last practice rounds, weigh the condition of the golf course and how they will perform on it.

On the even of the start of the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club outside Pittsburgh, talk has concern the USGA's usual beastly round, Phil Mickelson's injured wrist, and some of the longest golf holes ever put in pay for major championship.

Here are excerpts from press conferences with Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els.

Tiger Woods

Q. If you would, start off with some general comments about the golf course that you've seen in the past few days.

TIGER WOODS: The golf course is obviously in perfect shape. The fairways are starting to run a little bit now. The greens are starting to pick up a little bit of speed. I think they are faster today than they were yesterday. The wind is awfully blowing so it's drying them out a little bit faster and that helps.

Over all the course is set up very fair, it will be a very difficult test, but also one that you just have to really grinds your way around the golf course really well.

Q. Can you give us a little indication of how you're feeling about your game coming into the championship this week.

TIGER WOODS: Well, I'm pleased with the things that I've been working on and pleased at the progress that I've been making in my practice rounds. Honestly, really looking forward to Thursday.

Q. Given the way your swing was grooved at the end of last year to the beginning of this year, there seemed to be a lull to the time of the Masters; looking back, do you feel that you let that one get away and what lessons did you learn from that that you can bring here?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I didn't hit it particularly well on Thursday and Friday at Augusta. The weekend, I hit it pretty good. I didn't make as many putts as I would like, especially on the back nine on Sunday, I really had some chances. I just didn't get it done, but at least I was there and had a chance. Overall this year, it's been a pretty good success so far and hopefully I can play a little bit better than I did at Augusta this week.

Q. What are your impressions of the changes at Oakmont; specifically, the removal of so many trees?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I didn't play here in '94. I only watched it. I think it's fantastic. It opens the golf course up. It gives, you know, I think a gallery a better atmosphere. You can see more holes. I think it provides a better environment over all for the golf tournament. It brings everyone together. Everyone can see across, hear things better, see what's going on. And also, by opening the golf course up, like today when the wind blows, it's going to blow. Granted, it not really supposed to blow here at this time of year, but it's blowing today.

Q. When you were here in April, you had said that there were three or four holes you thought could be birdie holes and you needed to take advantage of those. Do you still feel that way, and could you tell us which holes those were?

TIGER WOODS: I think a lot of it is based on pin locations. You know, the second hole is a pretty short hole, but you hide those pins -- put it this way, if you make 72 straight pars, you're not looking too bad. So, you know, even though some of the easier holes, even the par 5s, you think they are easy. But one misplaced shot can lead to a bogey pretty quickly.

Q. Have you played out of the church pews at all during your practice rounds --

TIGER WOODS: No.

Q. Have you dropped a ball there?

TIGER WOODS: No.

Q. Is it like 17 at Sawgrass --

TIGER WOODS: I don't really think that you should be practicing negativity. You're not going to place the golf ball there, and if you are, if you do make a mistake there, you just basically are going to wedge out anyways. Accept your mistake, and move on. I'm practicing where I'm trying to place the golf ball and tendency is I think where the greens, even with good shots, balls with run-off to certain areas, and that's basically what I've been doing so far.

Q. On what hole do you think it's the hardest to make a par out here, and where?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it might be the first hole right out of the gate. You know, it's a pretty narrow hole. If you hit the ball in the bunkers there, you're probably not going to advance it to the green. The second shot, a good shot -- it's 50/50 whether it stays on or not. You know, that's also one of most difficult greens and you haven't quite got in the flow of a round yet, the feel for how the golf course is playing. It's just an opening hole. I think that's one of the more difficult holes I've ever seen as your opening hole. I know that we thought No. 1 at Muirfield in 2002 was pretty hard, but I think this one's a lot harder.

Q. Are there any fun holes out here, any hole that you particularly look forward to?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, the 19th is great, man. (Laughter).

Q. How about No. 8, your thoughts on No. 8?

TIGER WOODS: No. 8, it's pretty nice that you can drive a par 4 like that. (Laughter). I've hit wood every day, and it's pretty good for the confidence.

Q. 3-wood or 5-wood?

TIGER WOODS: Driver. Come on, Art. I'm not that old yet. You know, I've hit 3-wood there from the back tee. Even into the wind, I can still reach the front edge with 3-wood into the wind. The fairways are starting to dry out a little bit. I hit 3-wood, a 5-wood, depends on the winds from the back tee, and I've hit 3-iron to 5-wood, depends on what the wind is doing from the front tee.

Sergio Garcia

Q. Two questions. What holes out there do you feel like you can attack and maybe look at maybe as birdie holes?

SERGIO GARCIA: The eighth looks pretty good. It's probably our best chance of making birdie, short par 4, you know. (Laughter). You see, the problem is, there are some holes that you can birdie, but it all depends on where the pins are placed. I mean, you have a hole like 2 where you say, you know, it's a short hole, you're hitting like a 4-iron off the tee and a wedge to the green. So you think, you know, that's a birdie hole. But depending where the pin is, it can be even hard to make par. So I think that's the beauty of this tournament; that you can really change a hole from one day to the next just by putting a pin position here or there and, you know, moving the tee back or something. But I don't know, I mean, there's not a lot of birdie holes out there. Of course, you have, you know, the fourth, if you hit a good tee shot, you probably have a chance of making birdie there. And you know, if you hit good tee shots, you can make some birdies, but you have to be in the fairway. You have to hit good shots and put it in the right spot on the greens. If you finish in the wrong spot, you might have a 10 footer, and you're hoping not to 3-putt.
It's quite difficult out there.

Q. The other one is, they feel that 7, 8, 9 and 10 is the meat of this golf course. Would you agree with that?

SERGIO GARCIA: How about, 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15. (Laughing). It's one part of the meat, but it's not the whole meat. It's not the whole, you know, chicken wing or whatever you want to call it. I mean, you have 12. 12, it's a par 5, but it's not an easy par 5. I mean, you have a very difficult tee shot. If you miss the fairway, you're probably going to be hitting something like a 4- or 5-iron into the green, into a green that runs away from you, so it doesn't become a birdie hole anymore. But yeah, definitely, 7 -- 6 is a tough par 3, even though it's not too long. The green is very slopey.

7 is very tough. 8, of course, you know, hitting woods into a par 3 is never fun. And then you have 9 and 10, quite difficult, too. As I said, 12 is not an easy hole. There's a lot of tough holes out there. 3, I think it's a very difficult hole. Just very, you know, treacherous green and not a lot of room to hit it. So you know, you're going to have to be very patient this week. That's the only chance you have.

Q. The par 3, 280, 290 No. 8, does the length of a hole like that concern you and other golfers, or is it more the positioning? How do you approach a hole like that?

SERGIO GARCIA: Well, there's nothing you can really do about it. You just play it, try to hopefully make a 3. You know if you make 4 you're not really losing a lot of ground. There's not going to be many 2s there. But hopefully, you know, you make your 3 and run to the next tee, get out of there as quickly as possible.

Q. Is there a hard and fast reason why European players have not fared well in not just the U.S. Open but all major championships recently?

SERGIO GARCIA: I don't know. No, I've got no answer for that.

Q. Could this course, because of the removal of all of the trees and now that it's more like a links course, could it be more beneficial to a European player now?

SERGIO GARCIA: I hope so. I don't know. You guys are always asking about that, but if I had the reason why, you know, I'm sure we would have fixed it. The only thing you can do is play and, you know, try and win it. If you don't, the only thing you can do is keep trying. But I don't know why. I can't give you like an exact reason why that's happened.

Q. This is going to be the first major since the 1991 PGA where there is not a player in the field under the age of 30 who has not won a major; why do you think nobody under 30 has been able to win majors recently?

SERGIO GARCIA: Well, one of the reasons is because Tiger has just turned 31, so that doesn't help.

Just not good enough, I guess. We have been giving it good shots, guys in their 20s, trying to win majors, and we've been really close. But it hasn't happened. There's a lot of high-quality players here this week, and only one guy can win. So, you know, I can't give you an exact reason why, but it's just one of those things.

Phil Mickelson

Q. I didn't get to see all of the holes this morning; did you play any shots out of the rough and if you did, how did it feel?

PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't hit any shots out of the rough. I don't want to aggravate it. Tried not to hit too many drivers yet. I don't want to go at it full speed just yet. I think I hit one or two drivers at the most. Just kind of easing into it. I've got a really good game plan mapped out for the tournament. I'm just not sure if I'm going to be ready to implement it because I haven't had the normal practice and preparation that I would have going into it a major. But I'm still looking forward to being able to play and hopefully implement or put together the game plan that I had hoped.

Q. You just touched on that; you've made a habit of playing into tournaments, playing competitive rounds going into it. How much of a draw back do you think that will be going into Thursday not having played competitively for over two weeks now?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's certainly not the way I wanted to be coming into this tournament. I wanted to have good practice sessions and good driver sessions. I've brought a couple of drivers since THE PLAYERS and wanted to work on that and haven't been able to do that. I haven't been physically able to practice as hard as would I like and I'm not sure where my physical game is going to be as far as ball striking and so forth. But I've been able to chip-and-putt and put together a game plan but it's difficult to implement given I have not been able to practice the last two weeks.

Q. This obviously is one of the most grueling majors around because of the rough and all that goes with it, do you think you'll be able to get through four rounds? And as a follow, what are the parts of your game plan that you think might be most difficult to implement because of the wrist issues?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think it's important to drive the ball very well here obviously, and that's going to be the biggest challenge for me because I haven't been able to practice it as well as go at it 100% with confidence that it's not going to flare-up again. But this should not be a long term problem if I don't aggravate the inflammation, and this unfortunately isn't the best week for that, given my driving history. (Laughter). I ended up over stressing my other wrist because it was carrying a heavier word on work outs and trying to stay in shape so I've been ordered to after the rounds, I can't sign autographs or hit balls or do strenuous work outs. It should not be a problem if I do this for the next two to four weeks. I shouldn't have a long term problem and I should let the injury settle down and it won't be an issue. Again, that's not easy to do here at this setup. Now, I will say the rough is a half or a third what it was when I got injured. It was two or three times as tall as it is now.

Q. What are your expectations this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm trying not to go in with too many expectations as far as how I finish, place and so forth. I want to, as Thursday starts and as we get to Sunday, continue to improve my ball-striking without aggravating my wrist anymore, and hopefully implement my game plan that I've developed the last couple of weeks with Pelz.

Q. Was there a point where you finally put last year behind you, and is there anything you took from that final day?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't ever want to put it totally behind me. I still want to look back on it and recall what happened, because I used that analysis to design a game plan to start driving the ball better. Hopefully my previous weeks of playing at the Nelson, the Wachovia and THE PLAYERS Championship has helped me implement that program to get me started. If I just forget about it, I'm not taking advantage of the opportunity to take advantage of some weaknesses hopefully turn it into strengths.

Ernie Els

Q. If you could start off with some comments and memories of [winning here in] 1994 and tell us what that victory meant to your career.

ERNIE ELS: Yeah, it's amazing, being back here, 13 years, it's gone quickly so far. But '94 I was 24 years old and coming here. I remember I had a good week the week before. In those days we played Westchester the week before the Open, and I finished second to Lee Janzen there. So I felt good with my game. But I never thought I was even going to have a chance to win. It's amazing what a little bit of talent and a little bit of belief does, and I believed I was going to play well. I didn't think I was going to win. I had a good week, and I remember the third round I played really well, that really set it up. Fourth round was kind of just -- kind of hanging in there. And then obviously in the playoff on a Monday, I mean, you guys know, most of you guys have been here.

Q. You as a player then and now, what's the main difference?

ERNIE ELS: I would say 25 pounds maybe. (Laughter). I mean, there's a lot of differences. My swing is a lot different. Actually watching the GOLF CHANNEL the other night when they showed that '94 U.S. Open again last week, it was kind of funny looking at yourself then and where you think you are right now. So I had a little bit of a different hat in those days, you know, just sitting like that (laughter) and a little different hair style. But my swing basically is a little different I would say through the years with Lead and my dad, and I think we've improved that a lot.
My putting touch, you know, on the other hand, I made a lot of putts back then and that's why I won in '94. I made a ton of putts from inside 10, 12 feet. But other than that, you know, I feel like obviously more experienced. I feel I've had a couple of hits in my career but I've had some good wins. I would say more -- you know, it's hard to say. I guess I am a better player, but I'd like to make more putts.

Q. We always hear about how brutal the greens are, but people have been having good weeks on them like you did in '94. What's the key to putting these greens and to playing them well?

ERNIE ELS: Well, it starts really from the tee. You've got to get yourself in good position off the tees and then into the greens you've got to -- the better position you have in the fairway, the better you can either attack the flag or the greens or play it safe. The good thing you have to do is really try and keep yourself under the hole. If that's playing away from the flag, you know, try and do that. I remember in '94, I think I was -- I think I was No. 1 either in greens reg or in putting, one of the two. The more greens you hit over here this week, you know, the better you're going to score. And this week, particularly, the rough is unbelievable. So you've really got to -- even if you go with a 3-iron off the tee, make sure you hit the fairway and then try and hit it on the green. This is serious U.S. Open golf here this week. It's at its best.

Q. Do you think it's easier to win this tournament when you're 24 than when you're your age when there are fewer expectations; maybe you don't have the backlog of some memories or whatever?

ERNIE ELS: That's a good question, you know, as I said before, when I came here, when I was 24, I didn't give myself too much of a chance. So I kind of just played. I played, I played the course and I just kind of enjoyed the experience. As I said, also, you know, I had a bit of game when I came in here. I had a bit of confidence, and I went with that. You know, before I could notice, I was leading the Open going into Sunday. So, you know, at my career now, I'm looking for more and it's totally a reversal almost. I've won over 60 events since then. I've won another two majors since then. I've had a couple of close misses. So you try and add to your career right now where at 24, you're starting out. So it's kind of, you know, it's a double-sword almost.

Q. You talked about being here and bringing back great memories, how would you rate your chances for winning this week?

ERNIE ELS: It's pretty good. I've been hitting it pretty well the last couple of weeks. I've made a lot of birdies, you know, but I've also made some incredible ugly numbers, too.
But when it's good, it's really good and it seems like when it's bad, it goes really bad. But I've been working hard at it. You know, especially on the putter, and as you can see, I'm sleeping with my putter now. (Laughter) just trying to get a good feel for it. I'm feeling good about it, and as I said, got a lot of support here and just try and feed off that and just play. We've got a tough course, four day asks just got to try and hang in there.

Transcripts provided by ASAP Sports

June 13, 2007

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