Despite shooting 75-73 in the final two rounds of the U.S. Open at Olympic two weeks ago to finish tied for 21st place, Tiger Woods, as always, preferred to look at the bright side of his week in San Francisco.
I was still in the ball game, Woods, who held a share of the 36-hole lead, told reporters after completing his final round that Sunday. A lot of positives to be taken away from this week. A lot of positives.
Ten days later, not much had changed. Woods made his first public appearance since the Open Tuesday at Congressional Country Club and remained mostly upbeat about his Open performance, despite his disappointing weekend on a brutally difficult golf course that produced a winning score of one over par from champion Webb Simpson.
The way I struck the golf ball, I was very pleased by that, said Woods, the official host of the AT&T National in town this week. I didn't particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial (where he won two weeks earlier). Obviously at the Open, that's just one of the things you have to do, and I didn't do that. I didn't make anything from 15 or 20 feet. I made a bunch of putts from 8 to 10 feet and in, but I didn't make any other putts. I played very conservative. My game plan worked for the first couple days. I was playing away from a lot of flags, lag putting, but I didn't make anything. I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.
It was one of those weekends where I just didn't quite get everything out of my rounds. I was so close on Saturday to getting a good round out of it, and I didn't. It's just one of those things where a fraction off, particularly on that U.S. Open venue, balls that land in the fairway don't stay in the fairway, and I kept hitting the edge of the fairways and going in the rough. There you've not only got to hit the ball in the middle but you've got to hit the ball in the middle with the correct shape. Being a fraction off, certainly it showed up on Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday for sure. But I got it back towards the end of it, played 3under coming in, and that was something positive.
Woods seemed particularly upbeat Wednesday returning to play Congressional for the first time since he won his own event here in 2009 with a score of 13-under par. He did not play in the 2011 U.S. Open on the clubs famous Blue Course because he was still recovering from surgery. When someone asked him if hed like the winning score to be below the Open record breaking total of 16 under posted last year by Rory McIlroy, he said as long as Im that person.
Woods did not have a chance to play Congressional when he met with the media shortly after 1 p.m. but said hes been told the course was playing firm and fast, just the way he likes it. Thats the good news. The bad? With high humidity and temperatures in the mid-90s predicted over the four days of the tournament, those conditions may not last.
Weve seen what this place can do when it gets soft and what the guys can shoot, he said. But this week, with the weather forecast as hot as its supposed to be, I dont think were going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. Theyre going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.
Woods also admitted that there are still significant shortcomings with his game as he continues to attempt to equal or surpass Jack Nicklauss record 18 major championships. Woods has 14 now and 73 PGA Tour victories, but he also knows his short game had better get better in order to significantly build on both those numbers.
I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit, he said, and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch (Harmon) and the same thing when I was working with Hank (Haney). During that period, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game. Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again.
One thing Woods said he will never do with his short game is switch to a long putter, all the rage these days on the PGA Tour.
Ive tried it and my stroke is infinitely worse, he said. Its just not good. I like the flow of my stroke. I like how I putt. Putting with anchoring or even different configurations of a standard grip, my stroke doesnt flow at all. I think Ive done all right with mine, and I think Im going to stick with it.
Hes also going to stay the course with his current swing changes being overseen by his latest instructor, Sean Foley. He equated making changes in his swing the older he gets with Michael Jordan making adjustments to his shooting style as he moved into his 30s .
He couldnt jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder, Woods said. It didnt matter; he could fade away from either shoulder. I didnt want to play the way I did (in the past) because it hurt, and it hurt a lot.
Was I good at it. Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldnt go down that road, and theres no way I could have had that longevity in the game if I had done that. Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesnt hurt, and Im still generating power, but it doesnt hurt anymore.