SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Relaxed. Smiling. Joking with the media.
Tiger Woods answered questions for nearly 12 minutes Tuesday, officially ending a 13-year absence at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“Great to be back,” he said following a nine-hole practice round. “Been a long time since I have been gone.”
It was 2001 to be exact. He finished tied for fifth that year, but it was an incident in which someone lobbed an orange onto the green as he was putting that marred his appearance.
Two years earlier Woods was heckled by a fan that after being wrestled to the ground was found to have a gun on his person.
“That’s one of the reasons why I hadn’t played in a while,” he said. “You know, I think the people here have done a fantastic job over the years and making sure things are a lot more safe.”
Perhaps that is now why Woods chose to return and make the Waste Management Phoenix Open his first PGA Tour stop of 2015.
This week will mark only the fourth time he’s competed at TPC Scottsdale, the site of one of the many iconic moments of his career: A hole-in-one on the par-3 16 in 1997.
“I think I broke Fluff’s (caddie Mike Cowan) hand. I missed — what did I miss? I missed Omar (Uresti). I missed his,” said Woods, looking back at the celebration.
“And then old school, back in the day, raised the roof, you know, that was the thing in the day. Then on top of that, just smelling and hearing the beer hit behind me on the tee box. It was a different; obviously a different setup then to see, turn around and see all this beer flying was crazy. The more eerie part was when we were playing 17 and 18, everybody didn’t really care. They were walking in, because they had seen what they wanted to see and 16 was empty. So we looked back on 16. You see all these beer cups everywhere on the tee box, and probably maybe an eighth of the people there.”
Having played only the front nine on Tuesday, Woods had not yet seen just how much 16 had changed since his last time through the course.
“As I said, back in ’97, they didn’t have the bleachers like they did around the tee box. It was a hill and people were partying,” he said. “I don’t know if they still serve the alcohol like they used to, because that was a pretty — the guys who were playing behind me, they had some pretty wet lies. It was a different ballgame back then.”
Woods’ game is different as well, though he said he feels good about how he’s driving the golf ball.
“My (club) speed is way back up, and that’s fun,” he said.
Injuries limited Woods to only seven official events last season with his best finish being tied for 25th at the Cadillac Championship.
Woods’ next victory will be his 80th on the PGA Tour.
“The golf course right now is in fantastic shape. I mean, it’s springy,” he said. “The balls are — it’s not quite flying, it’s not quite warm out yet, but the greens have definitely got a little spring to them, but they’re not overly quick, which is nice. You can see some pretty good scoring unless this weather comes in we’re supposed to get on Friday. Then it might be a little harder.”
Woods’ best finish at TPC Scottsdale was third in 1999.
With the Super Bowl across town, Woods hopes to be in contention Sunday and attend the game later between Seattle and New England.
“I’d like to. That’s the plan,” he said. “I just wish my Raiders were there, but they’re not.”