PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Tiger Woods chose not to play a practice round Tuesday at Pebble Beach, saying he wanted to be energized and ready to come Thursday for Round 1 of the U.S. Open.
He called it a “rest day,” but the large pool of sweat showing through his dark blue Nike polo in the early afternoon suggested otherwise.
Woods clearly hit the range hard and spent a lot of time on the practice green working with putting consultant Matt Killen, with whom Woods also spent time ahead of the Players Championship in March.
He entered the interview room around 4:15 p.m. ET and spent plenty of time reflecting on his record-setting 15-shot win here in 2000. But the more pressing topic is what happens this week, nearly two decades later and two months removed from another timeless major victory.
“I feel like I’m trending in the right direction,” Woods said. “I need one more day of prep.”
Woods will play a practice round Wednesday at Pebble Beach for a final tune-up ahead of his opening-round 5:09 p.m. tee time with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose. He wants to get a better feel for the setup, see how the USGA is actually going to let this thing play out come game time.
Asked how much different his strategy will be in 2019 than it was in 2000, Woods said not much has changed there. He doesn’t have the raw power he had back then but the golf ball goes further now, so his distances are actually pretty similar. It all evens out.
“Looking forward to it,” Woods said. “It’s been a while since we played the U.S. Open here. There’s nothing like playing a U.S. Open setup here in Pebble Beach. The golf course is not overly long. It’s not big in that regard but, man, it’s tricky. The greens are slanted, very small targets. And if they ever firm up, then we have a totally different ballgame.”
Woods wasn’t himself at his last major outing, the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he missed a major cut for just the ninth time in his career and never had it from the get-go. He’s alluded to an illness that week and admitted Tuesday he was in “rough shape.” That’s not the case so far this week, and Woods said he’s up for the challenge at a U.S. Open or anywhere if he’s good to go physically.
“If I feel good, then I feel like I can play any venue,” Woods said. “It’s just that when I’m stiff and not moving as well, it becomes a little bit more difficult. … How do you put the ball in the correct position is the key (this week). And these greens, we don’t face greens like this, this small and steep. So it puts a premium on iron play.”
That means Woods must really like his chances this week considering he’s the best irons player in the game. He had them dialed in at the Masters and again two weeks ago during a T-9 finish at the Memorial Tournament.
That Masters victory got the Jack Nicklaus discussion going in full swing again, with Woods now three majors shy of catching his all-time record at 18. Asked about the importance of that, Woods said he’s thinking more about the here and now.
“What’s important to me is that I’m back playing again,” Woods said. “This game was taken away from me for a few years there. And I missed competing, I missed playing. Now I have an opportunity to do that again, and also to be able to share it with my kids.”
Now he’s back at the site of his most dominant competitive victory ever, and he seems to be enjoying the moment.