Tiger Woods knows pursuit remains

SAN FRANCISCO -- This week marks the four-year anniversary since Tiger Woods last won a major championship, but even if he were to win the 112th U.S. Open, the winner of 14 Grand Slam events said the questions about his status in the game would persist.

"I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, you're not to 18 yet, or when will you get to 19," Woods said during a news conference following a practice round Tuesday at the Olympic Club. "I've dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf, it hasn't changed."

Woods, 36, has been stuck on 14 major titles since winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.

His reference was to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles, and Woods' career-long quest to surpass that mark.

In order to renew that pursuit, Woods hopes to build on his victory two weeks ago at Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament, where he won for the 73rd time in his PGA Tour career and second this year.

The first came at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which propelled him to favorite status at the Masters. But that performance never translated: Woods finished tied for 40th, his worst performance as a pro at Augusta National. He then missed the cut at the Wells Fargo Championship, and tied for 40th at The Players Championship before winning the Memorial.

"When I went into Augusta, I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up. And I got back into a lot of my old patterns," he said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out. But that's what made playing Muirfield (the Memorial) so nice is that I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun."

Woods will be making his 17th U.S. Open start alongside Phil Mickelson and Masters champion Bubba Watson off the ninth tee at 10:33 a.m. ET Thursday. The last time Woods played with Mickelson was in February at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where Mickelson won his 40th PGA Tour title.

This will be the 31st time they've been grouped together in a PGA Tour event, and going head-to-head, Woods is 13-13-4 against Mickelson.

At the last U.S. Open played here, in 1998, Woods never broke par and finished in a tie for 18th during a season in which he was undergoing a swing change and won just once on the PGA Tour.

"Frustrated. Just like you are at most U.S. Opens," Woods said. "I was frustrated. I was right in the middle of the changing of my game. And it was just a frustrating time going through that and playing this venue during that time was not easy."

Woods also discussed a variety of subjects.

• On the Olympic Club's first six holes, which start with a 520-yard par-4: "I think that the first six, if you play them for four straight days even par, you're going to be picking up just a boatload of shots. They're just difficult."

• On playing the first two rounds with Mickelson: "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."

• On Casey Martin, his former Stanford teammate, who qualified for the U.S. Open and will be riding a cart due to a disability: "Unless you really know him, I don't think people really have appreciation of how much pain he's in. Just the everyday pain he lives with. He doesn't show it, doesn't talk about it, doesn't complain about it, he just lives with it."

• On 14-year-old Andy Zhang getting into the Open field to become the youngest since World War II to compete in the tournament: "I tried it when I was 15, but he earned a spot. He went out there and went through both stages and did it. It's not too young if you can do it. That's the great thing about this game, it's not handed to you. You have to go out and put up the numbers and he did.

"He shot the scores he needed to qualify and move on and he did and he's here playing on the biggest stage. Just think about the experience he's going to gain playing in this event. How well that's going to serve him playing junior events and high school events."

• On the difficulty of a U.S. Open course: "I've always preferred it to be more difficult, there's no doubt. And I've always preferred it to be fast. I just like a fast golf course, because then you have to shape shots. You have to think."

• On pursuing Nicklaus' 18 majors: "Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I've got 10 (years). (Tom) Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time. And that's the great thing about staying in shape and lifting weights and being fit is that the playing careers have extended."