Tiger Woods has not won a major title in four long years but the former world number one oozed a steely confidence at the Olympic Club on Tuesday while preparing for this week’s U.S. Open.
Boosted by his 73rd PGA Tour victory at the Memorial tournament two weeks ago in Dublin, Ohio, Woods is happy with his game and returns to a course he knows very well from his student days at Stanford University.
“It feels good,” Woods, a three-times U.S. Open champion, told reporters. “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve played the golf course now a couple of times and it’s quick out there.
“I’m excited about playing, excited about this golf course. I’ve played a lot here in college and it’s great to be back.”
For the second time this year, Woods comes into a major championship fresh from a PGA Tour win but he feels a lot more confident this week than he did before the Masters in April.
“When I went into Augusta (for the Masters), I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up,” the 36-year-old American said. “And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
“That’s what made playing Muirfield (for the Memorial tournament) so nice is that I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. I had compression and I was hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.”
Two weeks before the Masters, Woods romped to victory by five shots at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but he struggled at Augusta National where he recorded his worst performance in the year’s opening major since he turned professional.
Woods closed with a 74 at the Masters, failing to break 72 in any of his four rounds.
However, he seemed to be back to his best at Muirfield Village, ending a week of superlative ball-striking with a five-under-par 67 to triumph by two shots.
Woods, who played eight holes in practice with his former university friend Casey Martin early Tuesday, will certainly need high-quality ball-striking this week at Olympic’s challenging Lake Course.
“You have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play,” the 14-times major winner said. “You’ve got right-to-left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you’re going against the grain.”
Added to that, there is the traditional U.S. Open set-up of narrow fairways, thick rough and firm conditions which combine to give the players an extreme challenge, both mentally and physically.
“This probably tests the player more than any other championship,” Woods said. “We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialed in.
“But I’ve always preferred it to be more difficult, there’s no doubt,” he said with a faint smile. “And I’ve always preferred it to be fast.”
Woods will tee off in Thursday’s opening round in a high-profile grouping with fellow Americans Phil Mickelson, a long-time rival in golf’s biggest events, and Masters champion Bubba Watson.
“For us to get that pairing was exciting I think for everyone and I think this year will be the same,” said Woods.
Asked whether he and Mickelson would be chatting much out on the course, Woods replied: “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,” added Woods, whose last major win came at the 2008 U.S. Open.