Bethesda. Maryland. Tiger Woods and the US PGA Tour’s National return to Congressional Country Club this week for the first time since 2009, when the 14-time major champion won the event he hosted.
The event moved to suburban Philadelphia for the past two years while Congressional prepared for and hosted the 2011 US Open, which Rory McIlroy won while Woods was idled with nagging left knee and Achilles tendon injuries.
Now the event is back in suburban Washington starting Thursday and Woods is back in a hosting role, his charity foundation receiving proceeds from the event, and on solid form after a victory earlier this month at the Memorial.
Woods grabbed a share of the 36-hole lead at this year’s US Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco but faded at the weekend, although he saw signs that give him hope for future majors, including next month’s British Open.
“Overall, the way I struck the golf ball, I was very pleased by that,” Woods said. “I didn’t particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial, and at the Open that’s one of the things you have to do.
“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 need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, is level with Nicklaus for second on the all-time US PGA win list, each of them on 73, nine back of Sam Snead’s record 82 career triumphs.
“The fact that he won at age 52, when he won Greensboro, and to do it for that long is amazing, truly amazing,” Woods said of Snead.
“People didn’t appreciate what he had done on top of that who he did it against,” Woods said. “You compete against [Ben] Hogan and [Byron] Nelson your entire playing career, those are two tough guys to beat and he did it.”
Woods contrasts the record of Snead and the major record of Nicklaus to his friend Roger Federer passing Pete Sampras to set the record of 16 Grand Slam tennis titles while Jimmy Connors owns the all-time record of 109 career ATP crowns.
“I think it’s the same thing: why was Pete Sampras’ record so much greater than what Jimmy Connors has done?” Woods said. “The majors certainly have more importance and we put so much more on it, especially now.
“There’s so much more media coverage and attention on major championships. Certainly that’s something that wasn’t exactly [there] in Jack’s day and prior to him. Our big events are big, bigger than any other events that we play.”
Woods is not worried about those who figure he will not truly “be back” until he wins another major title after not having captured one since the 2008 US Open.
“It’s something I’ve done over the years and I haven’t done it since ‘08. We all go through periods where that doesn’t happen. Some periods are entire careers. But I think I understand how to win major championships,” Woods said.
“The key is just giving yourself chances on the back nine on Sunday each and every time. That’s one of the reasons Jack was so good at it. He won 18 but he finished second 19 times, so he was there. You’re not going to win them all, but if you’re there a lot, chances are you’re going to win your share,” he added.
Not only do majors have the best fields and toughest course set-ups, the courses change every year except at the Masters.
“Even Augusta, they seem to change it most years, so there’s no real consistency to the major championships,” Woods said. “You have to relearn a golf course for a week.”
Woods disagrees with critics who say he does not play often enough.
“If I played 30 times a year, I don’t think I would be as ready as I am each and every week I tee it up,” Woods said. “When I think of how my career has turned out, I think I’ve done the right thing.”
Woods compared his changing his swing style in recent years to retired NBA legend and friend Michael Jordan adapting his game at an older age from leaps and drives to the basket to incorporate more assists and outside shots.
“I didn’t want to play the way I did because it hurt a lot,” Woods said. “Was I good at it? Yeah, but I couldn’t go down that road and there’s no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that. Four knee surgeries later, I finally have a swing that it doesn’t hurt and I’m still generating power, but it doesn’t hurt anymore/”
Woods, who lives near Miami, enjoyed watching LeBron James lead the Miami Heat to this year’s NBA title.
“What he did in The Finals is absolutely amazing,” Woods said. “It’s pretty neat to see somebody who’s that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions. To me it’s just amazing to watch player development like that.”