Golf
Bob Harig, ESPN Senior Writer 9d

Quick 9: What Tiger Woods revealed on Geno Auriemma's podcast

PGA Tour, Golf, Connecticut Huskies

1. A surprisingly long and candid Tiger interview

Tiger Woods dropped a good bit of news and a lot of insight in a podcast with a women's college basketball coach. While that might seem a bit odd, Geno Auriemma is a Hall of Famer who has won 11 national championships at the University of Connecticut and, quite clearly, has some keen golf insight.

Auriemma, 63, recently started a podcast called "Holding Court," and Woods was the guest in the second episode. The connection is more obvious than you might think. Auriemma is an avid golfer with a single-digit handicap who has visited numerous bucket-list golf courses. He's also good friends with fellow Connecticut resident Joe LaCava, who has been caddying for Woods since 2011.

So a coach who has faced his share of questions over the years got to turn it around and found a way to make Woods comfortable while also eliciting several excellent answers. Along the way, he managed to poke fun at Woods, telling him, for example, that Nike got out of the golf equipment business because of the way the 14-time major champion hit the driver. Zing.

2. The golf ball rollback

Among the biggest headlines the interview produced was Woods calling for a rollback of the golf ball. Woods' name in the game carries considerable weight, and him joining the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and the late Arnold Palmer in suggesting that the golf ball travels too far is another big voice in the debate.

Although Woods has said as much before, his comment to Auriemma that the golf ball needs to be rolled back was not due to any fear that he has lost ground to the biggest hitters in the game; that had occurred already, and any rollback for him is going to mean a rollback for them.

Woods used tennis as an example of a sport that put limitations on rackets and baseball as one that doesn't allow aluminum bats at the professional level.

"We don't want to give up amateurs hitting if further and straight, but we tour pros might want to roll back the ball," he said. "[But] where is the line of demarcation? PGA Tour level? Web.com level? Mini-tour level? I don't see it happening in the near future, but at least there are talks about it now."

3. Hitting it farther than he expected

Woods said he's surprised how far he is hitting the ball -- significant because the interview was done some three weeks ago -- as he attempts to return to competition. "I'm back to hitting my full numbers and not really trying to do that," he said.

That suggests Woods either was hitting shots before his doctor cleared him, or his doctor cleared him sooner than was disclosed.

4. Why not use the old swing?

When Woods has struggled in recent years -- especially after changing coaches -- a standard cry was that he should go back to the swing he used in 2000 (when he was 24) and dominating the game. Woods strongly put that idea to rest.

"I can't. My knee is trashed from all those years of playing that way," Woods said of a swing he attempted to change, in part, to protect his left knee. "I've had four operations on my knee. Forget when my back was bad; pre-surgery and pre-back problems, people were saying the same thing: 'Why don't you go back to 2000?' I can't; my knee's trashed from playing that way, I can't do that anymore. I have to look for a different way."

5. The mental struggle

After four back surgeries, Woods is understandably leery -- even though the fusion surgery has made it very difficult for him to injure that part of his back again.

"I'm still concerned about it, uneven lies, or weird swings, or out of trouble -- is my back going to go out, is it going to hurt again?," Woods said. "And my doctor said, my surgeon says, it's almost fused. I mean, it's like trying to break your leg; it's really hard to do. ... But still, in the back of my mind I remember making those swings and ending up on the ground, and having people come get me because I couldn't walk anymore."

5. His caddie's time off

Woods acknowledged what many assumed -- that he has been paying LaCava while the golfer had to sit out through Woods' injuries. Nonetheless, he encouraged LaCava to find work with another player.

"I told him if you want I can go out and get you a bag, get one of these up-and-coming guys," Woods said. "You can go out and caddie for them. Hopefully you'll enjoy it. When I come back I hope I can call you up and maybe pry you away. He said, 'No, no, I'm committed to you.' I understand that. I don't know when that is or if it will even happen. But he said no."

6. Remembering the Stephen Ames incident

Heading into the 2006 Match Play Championship, Woods was set to play Stephen Ames in the first round. Ames, who would win the Players Championship later that year, answered honestly prior to the tournament that he felt he had a chance against Woods because of where "he's been hitting it." The reference was to the fact that Woods was having trouble off the tee.

Auriemma brought up the story and was having trouble remembering the final score -- "9 and 8," Woods interjected, without hesitation -- then asked if it was anything personal.

"He didn't quite respect the way I could play the game of golf," Woods said. "So I just had to show him that I could still play."

And all these years later, Woods was still annoyed that he didn't close out the match on the previous hole. "You have no idea how I ticked I was when I missed that putt on the 10th hole to beat him 10 and 8."

Woods would go on to win two major championships that year.

7. Do his kids know he's famous?

Woods said that neither his daughter, Samantha, 10, nor son, Charlie, 8, has been able to experience much of him as a golfer. Both have been to just a handful of tournaments, and Charlie was there for his last victory at the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational. He said they often refer to him as "the YouTube golfer" because they've only been able to see him on video.

"When we went to the Real Madrid-Barcelona game [in Miami] and had a chance to take a picture with [Lionel] Messi and then went to the US Open tennis had a chance to take a picture with [Rafael] Nadal ... I told them they've met two living legends of their sport," Woods said, before relaying what his kids said: "Yeah, but we live with one, too."

"I didn't think they knew me that way," he said. "That put me backwards a little bit. I was a bit shocked by that."

8. A Ryder Cup take

Asked if he knew his Ryder Cup record, Woods (13-17-3) said he had no idea -- which is sort of in keeping with how Nicklaus approached the event. Few cared about that record as much as the performance on tour.

Nonetheless, Nicklaus (16-8-3) played in an era when the United States always won (5-0-1). Woods has played on seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams and won just once. The U.S. won in 1999, and he missed the 2008 Ryder Cup due to knee surgery.

His reason for the lack of success?

"Who plays the 18th hole the best," he said. "Those are things I've always looked at. ... I was part of landslide losses [2004 and 2006] and we never won the 18th hole. In all those matches [that got to the 18th], we came out on the last hole and either tied it or lost it. That swings entire Cups, and we never did it."

9. Keeping it simple

When Woods returns to competitive golf, he'll face a slew of up-and-coming players who do not fear him. Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson -- all have had success while Woods has been away from the game. While he understands how good they are, Woods said he takes a very pragmatic approach.

"No matter what you look at, low score still wins," he said. "And so the objective is, shoot the lowest score. I don't give a s--- how old you are, what you do -- the game doesn't change."

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