U.S. Open Press Conference Highlights: Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and more
Tuesday was press day at the U.S. Open, and many of the game's best took a break from their practice rounds to meet with the media. Among them: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar. We've got the highlights.
On playing with Phil: “I don't think we're going to talk about a lot. This is a Major championship. We've got work to do. Any extra motivation? No. I'm just trying to get out there and position myself for Sunday."
"It's such a test playing in this championship. I think this is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it's so difficult.
Every shot is-- there's no shot you can take off, so to speak. Say you're playing St. Andrews, and you go ahead and wail away, no big deal. But here there's such a premium on positioning the golf ball. That I think this is the tournament that I think the guys least converse.”
On playing with Bubba: “I've played a little bit with Bubba over the years. I've never seen a guy shape the ball as much as he does in this generation of players. We saw it a little bit with Chi Chi, but the movement with his ball is pretty impressive. You've got to have a lot of speed and he does.
And when he decides to flatten it out and not shape it, I don't think there's anybody can keep up with him out here.”
On Rory's chances: "I think he's coming off a tournament last week where he played really well. I think that's going to be great for his confidence. He had a few weeks where he didn't play the way that he knows he can play. But, hey, we all have those things happen. But last week was good for his confidence. He did some work at home, from what I hear, and went into Memphis and played great. It's going to serve him well this week.
Can he be 'back' without winning a major?: "I think even if I do win a Major championship, it will still be, you're not to 18 yet, or when will you get to 19. It's always something with you guys. I've dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf, it hasn't changed."
On how Olympic stacks up: "You have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play. Even to the greens, you've got right-to-left slopes of, let's say right-to-left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you're going against the grain. It's the same thing on the flip side.
That's the neat thing about this golf course is it seems like the majority of the doglegs kind of run away from you. And it puts a big premium on shaping the ball. But also it puts a big premium on game planning, what you want to do, where you want to hit it. And being committed to that."
On the changes since the 1998 U.S. Open: "...all my charts are all outdated because they've resurfaced every green. So I had to do a whole new book. But also I think that the new chipping areas, as I was saying earlier, are way different. We had balls that were landing on the green on 13 that were going in the hazard. That's a big change."
"...It's weird playing the two holes, one is a par-5 and one is a par-4, the same distance. Being the 1 and 17. They're identically the same distance. And playing as a par, the last two holes-- two of the last three holes being par-5s, back-to-back, we don't see a golf course like that unless we play Baltusrol. We have to wait that long before we play a par-5. There's a big premium on driving the golf ball and shaping it. The speed of these fairways are picking up, it's going to be a great test."
On playing with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin: “As far as playing with Casey, man, it's great to see him. I haven't seen him in a while. And he'snow the coach of the Ducks. And just so happy in life. It's neat to see him-- he played the Tour out here, tried that and he was happy doing it, but it's not like he is now. It's good to see him in a really good place..."
"Unless you really know him I don't think people really have appreciation of how much pain he's in. Just the everyday pain he lives with. He doesn't show it, doesn't talk about it, doesn't complain about it, he just lives with it.
I saw it in college, he was my roommate on the road a few times. And this is back when we were playing 36-18. I don't know how he did it, to be honest with you. I just don't know how he did it. For him to try and play the Tour, just try in itself is just amazing. And to get out here and play a few events and try to make a career out of it, it's hats off to him.
The pain threshold that you have to have to deal with it. And you just look at him, he's always so happy. It's very easy to go the other way and be very bitter, because of how uncomfortable he is on a daily basis. But I think that's what makes him special. That's what makes him so different."
On the knee: "It's finally a non-issue."
How tough are those first six holes? “I think even is a good score, 1-over is acceptable. I think it's over rated a little bit in the difficulty. It's certainly challenging. But the way it's set up gives you an opportunity to play them. They're not unplayable, by any means."
On playing with Tiger: “It's fabulous…I'll tell you why. First of all, I get excited to play with Tiger, I love it. I think we all do. He gets the best out of me. I think when it's time to tee off on Thursday I'll be ready to play. One of the issues I've had this year I've been a little mentally lethargic on Thursday and Friday. I won't be this week.
Second is, the one player I'm most concerned about if I play my best golf that may have a chance to beat me is Tiger. And the fact that we are on the same wavelength, I'm always am in favor of. Sometimes we'll get a huge advantage in tee times, based on weather conditions or whatnot, if we're in the same wavelength, neither of us will have a distinct advantage.”
How tough will Olympic be this time around? “You know, I really don't know-- after being here now four days -- I don't know how it's going to play. When I played last week, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, the course was so firm and the rough was so long that it was extremely difficult. I didn't think it was possible to shoot under par.
And yet to go out today and the greens are soft and the rough has been cut. And you're looking at it thinking, wow, this is pretty playable. And now 6, 8-under par may win. I just don't know how it's going to be set up. You have to be prepared as a player for both scenarios.”
Olympic’s Toughest Shot? “I think that 13 provides the most challenging shot, because it's a long, narrow green with wind blowing right-to-left. It's pushing the ball left.
If you miss it right, you've got a chip that's downhill, downwind, you're not going to get it up and down. And if you miss it left, it's off to Hartford. You may as well pack your bags, and we'll see you next week at [The Traveler’s Championship in] Hartford [laughter] because that ball is going to go down the creek, in the rough, under the trees, and you may still be there on Monday.”
Life since Augusta: “Well, the best part is I became a dad, adopted a son. That's the most important thing. Winning the tournament is great. Winning a Masters is great. But being a father is the best part. And being a better husband is a good part, too.
So it's been fun. It's been life changing. Golf has been like the last thing. When you win a Major like that, I've talked to certain people, they've told me certain things, what I got out of it, when you win a Major like that, golf is the last thing on anybody's mind.
Everybody starts asking questions, and golf is the last thing. And my manager is like golf needs to be the first thing when I come back, and not about the media and doing all these fun things. It's been a tough road trying to get back to golf, trying to get back to focusing on golf. Now after missing a cut a couple of weeks ago, I got mad enough and started practicing.”
On playing in the U.S. Open: “So we know that you can't worry about what par is or who you're playing with or what you're doing. You've just got to worry about how tough this golf course is and about your mental focus. You're going to make bogeys, not many birdies. It's about trying to make par somehow.”
On playing with Tiger and Phil: “They're not going to be focused on what I'm doing, hopefully I'm not going to be focused on what they're doing. We're all going to try to be hitting these little fairways and these little greens and somehow two putt.
We're not going to be focused on what each other is doing, we're going to be focused on the tough golf course at hand and the mental preparation. We need to be on top of our game for 18 holes. But it will be fun, though, they’re two legends.”
What’s the hardest part of the course? “Not that I know this in my head, but 13, what is that, the par-3, 13, the par 3 they shaved all the grass on the left side of the hole.So if you hit it-- you could actually hit the ball on the green and end up in the hazard. I don't understand why they did that. But they did it.
Next hole, 14, they moved the fairway over. I hit it in the middle of the fairway, but had to slice a 9-iron about 40 yards just to hit the green. It just doesn't make sense.”
“You know you're going to make mistakes, you know you're going to make bogeys. You have to keep going. Par-- what is par, 70? It's not really 70. It's over par. 5-over at the end of the week, just like at Oakmont, probably has a great shot at winning. Unless something changes dramatically with the weather or something like that.”
So...does he like Olympic? “Do I like it? I'll tell you in a few days. I think we all-- the way it's set up, it's going to be touch. I don't want to come out here and shoot 80. As of right now I don't like it. There's an 80 lurking. After four days of golf if there's not an 80, then I like it all right.”
“Every hole there's something around the corner. Even the shortest hole is tough to the longest hole is tough. There's something on every hole that can get you. It makes it very difficult. That's a nice PC way that I can say it”
Playing in Memphis: “It was important for me. That was the whole reason to go to Memphis last week, was to try to get some competitive golf and to feel like I shot a couple of good scores. And I saw some really positive signs out there.
So for me I thought it was, looking back on the week, it was a really good idea that I went there. I definitely feel more comfortable about my game going into this week if I hadn't have played. So I'm happy that I did.”
But, after playing four straight weeks, what about mental fatigue? “It's not like it's my fourth tournament in a row and I've been in contention for four weeks in a row and it drains you and takes a lot out of you mentally and physically.
The first couple of weeks of that stretch I had the weekend off, where I was just on the range hitting balls. So I feel fresh. I feel like I had a great four days up here, the weekend of Memorial and before Memphis and got some really good work done here. And I felt like as soon as I got to Memphis I was straight into the tournament, so I wasn't waiting around for it. I feel like it's worked out well for me.”
On the challenges of playing in the 1-2-3 pairing alongside Donald and Westwood: “I think it really adds to the atmosphere and it gets you up for-- of course you're going to be up for it anyway, but it just sort of-- you know, when you've got a little bit of attention on your group it focuses your mind a little bit and you feel like you want to be really prepared from the first hole.”
Finally, any nerves about throwing out the first pitch at Tuesday night's Giants game? "I definitely would rather get booed at a baseball game than on a golf course. But, no, I've been throwing a few golf balls on the course, threw a few medicine balls around last night at the gym ... I don't know whether to play it conservatively and just lob it into his hand or go for the fast one. I'm not sure."
Does the course suit you? I suppose so. I think especially in the last couple years I've really progressed in terms of getting my ball striking back to a more consistent level. If you had asked me this question a few years ago, probably not. I was a little bit too erratic off the tee. And you can't do that at a U.S. Open. You just have to keep it in play, hit a lot of greens, and obviously when you're out of position, miss it to the wrong spots and be smart about your game. And obviously I feel like I am good at plodding my way around a golf course. And I suppose at a U.S. Open you have to plod away even more than probably the other Majors.
On playing with Westwood and McIlroy in the first two rounds: “As a few guys have probably said, it is what it is. I mean, it wasn't that surprising to me. It's been done quite a few times. Rory and Lee and I have played together quite a few times over the past year or two. We're very used to it. I certainly don't think it's the most recognizable group. We all know who that is. But we get along fine, we played together a bunch of times, it's nothing new. I don't see it being a distraction or a benefit. Just, it's just one of those groups that we're used to.”
What happened last year at Congressional? "There's a couple factors. I think, one, I mismanaged my schedule a little bit leading up to the U.S. Open. I played a little bit too much. I was a little run down a few weeks before and was just trying to play catch up with my health. I felt a little bit not quite there a hundred percent in terms of health wise.
But also with the course playing a bit softer, a little bit wetter, it played quite long. And I think that that's always going to be a little bit tougher for me. I would rather it was firm and fast and running, where I'm not losing too much advantage off the tee."
Rory's getting his own bobble head tonight. You're ranked No. 1. He's No. 2. What do you do to get your own bobble head? “Probably win a U.S. Open by eight shots. Or at least by one.”
How does Olympic rank among the toughest open tests? It ranks pretty highly. I can only think of really Oakmont that sort of jumps out that's been a more difficult in this one in recent years. That was, once again, very firm. You tend to find these golf courses harder to play when they're firm. Pebble Beach was harder because it firmed up.
Do you feel you're playingwell going into this? Well, I shot 19-under last week. So I'm playing okay. Was that a trick question?
On playing with Luke and Rory: I don't anticipate any difference to when we would play normally. I played with Rory today and I can't imagine it any different when we play on Thursday. I get along with Luke. I partnered with him in the Ryder Cup. It's a good group to be in. We'll all enjoy it, I would imagine.
Not concerned with the scrutiny? You've got to play with somebody. So you might as well play with a couple of mates. It's nice to play with people you know and people you've got something in common with and you get on with.
On playing in the U.S. Open: “You come to a U.S. Open and you may be feeling good about your game and you get out there and it's hard maybe to stay confident because the course is so hard. You just don't make the birdies, you don't end up shooting scores that make you feel like you're playing good. You feel like you're just surviving.
I played these practice rounds Wednesday and Thursday of last week and I played Wednesday, did all my hitting extra shots, chipping, putting. I played Thursday, I played for score. And I wasn't able to make a birdie. I thought I played really good golf, only made two bogeys, but to walk off the course and I played some really good golf, I shot 2-over. Doesn't quite feel like I played really good golf and shot a 65, where you feel like you know you've played good golf. Here I feel like I played really good golf and shot 2-over and it's a bit humbling.”
Is this his best chance? “At the moment I like to think that it is my best opportunity for a major. The next one on the list is this one.
I think my temperament, my game, is suited very well for a U.S. Open. I think that I drive the ball accurately. I think I'm a guy that also can manage my game well enough to make a bunch of pars and not get on bogey trains or eliminate some of the bigger holes, bigger scores. So I definitely like my chances. I think a U.S. Open is a good fit for me.”
And just how hard are those first six holes? “The first six holes, I mean, I continue going further. The first 18 holes are extremely difficult. [Laughter]
So the first six are nothing really all that different than the last 12. But the first hole, I remember it as a par 5 and got here and was surprised to see it as a par 4 on Wednesday. Hit a driver and a 3-wood thinking this is not much of a par four here. But begin I see par as being relative. They could say it's a par two and it doesn't really make a difference we're all just shooting for a number. Par is just a completely relative term.
They're difficult holes, but I don't think the course really gets that much easier once you get past No. 6. There's still, it seems like they’re hard holes one after the next. So, yeah, after 72 holes I'm going to look forward to making more birdies after 72 holes, for sure.”
On the changes made to 18: "That was, obviously, a hole that was under a lot of criticism when we were here in '98. And I thought that they have done a great job redoing that. It still has some of the -- well, it has a lot of the toughness in there from back to front where it's sloped pretty severe from back to front, but nothing like the old green.
It's still a very difficult hole. If you don't get it in the fairway off the tee, you're struggling to make a four. Just because the green's very narrow, playing uphill out of the rough is difficult, and the green is just not very big. But it's not as tough up on the green as it was. It's just not as severe, but in a good way, don't get me wrong. It's such a positive change since 14 years ago. They did a great job with it. But kept the integrity of the hole in place."
On the homestretch, 16, 17 and 18: "Well, guys are going to see that as an opportunity late in the round. Even 18, that's potentially going to be a good birdie hole, I think, if you get it in the fairway. If the pin's up front it's going to be pretty difficult, I think, to get it close. But if the pin's middle to back, you're going to, if you drive it in the fairway at 18, you're going to have a good opportunity to try to make a three....So really that stretch, 16, 17, 18, we could see some exciting stuff, I think, especially coming down the stretch. Word is too they're going to maybe move up 16 for us a little bit. So I think it's going to add a lot of excitement, to tell you the truth.
And, finally, some gallows humor:
Q: What about the psychology of the two par 5s then you've got to wait all the way until 16 to--
STRICKER: Is that a par-5? (Laughter.)
Q: Par six?
STRICKER: Yeah, it's a par six.
Woods: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Mickelson: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Watson: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
McIlroy: Eric Gay/AP
Donald: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Westwood: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images