This is your first tournament of the season since you had a mishap while snowboarding in December. Can you take us through it?
I was snowboarding in Vail, December 24th, and I had a fairly minor wipeout, which resulted in dislocating my right shoulder. It got put back in an hour later, which is an excruciating hour for anybody who's dislocated a shoulder. They know the pain.
How are you feeling about your golf game after such a long layoff? Ready to shake off the rust?
I have no idea where the golf game is. The only way of getting the golf game back is to play.
You've dealt with several injuries over the last few years. Do you feel like you've been hit with a hex or something?
[Laughing] The others have been different because the others have been from playing golf. I tore the ribs playing golf [in 2009]. I had the turf toe through just repetitive abuse [last year].
Are you pain-free now?
My shoulder doesn't hurt. I'm just not golf fit. I was doing stuff to get the shoulder rehabbed, and then I would pay attention to the rest of the body in the gym. But you can't replicate the golf swing in the gym. And it uses all those little muscles you don't think about. Even if you're doing good all-body exercises, it still doesn't prepare you for hitting golf balls and walking golf courses.
You seem like a little bit apprehensive about your game this week?
Yeah. And I have to go out there this week. But I have to look a little bit ahead. You always want to stay sort of in the present, but I have to just realize that I've got to make baby steps and incremental improvements to get ready for Augusta and look at the bigger picture.
Good news is you have guaranteed four rounds this week, right?
Exactly, yeah, that's what I need.
It's obviously a Ryder Cup year. Can you talk about how big of a goal it is to make the team?
It's a massive goal. The three Ryder Cups I've been a part of have all been fantastic, and I think there's nothing better than representing your country. The passion that week, the friendships you make that week on both sides, it's one of the coolest team events in the world, of any sport. So yeah, I'd love to be a part of that. I'm in kind of a no-lose situation because I'm so far behind I just need to go play great golf. The Europeans are playing outstanding golf right now, so making the team, even being healthy, would be an accomplishment.
Do you have more motivation to make the team this year after what happened two years ago? You were kind of snubbed, at least you could see it that way.
No. What happened two years ago is in the past. The disappointing thing was still the way it went down — finding out on the golf course [during the final round of The Barclays]. For the guys who made it, it's awesome, but Luke [Donald], Justin [Rose], Padraig [Harrington], myself, we were all in that situation. We had no idea. And the European Tour has changed that. In fact, there was an announcement that the press conference was not going to be until Monday this year, which is good, and I'm happy about that. But two years ago doesn't affect what happens this year. That's in the past and it's gone. The Europeans won the Ryder Cup. They played great. [Graeme] McDowell coming down the stretch holing those putts was phenomenal stuff. I wish I could have been a part of it. I wasn't, and I didn't make the team, didn't qualify for the team. There's no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to picks. I know that, and I was very accepting of the decision, just not the way the decision was made.
Like you were saying, the Europeans, particularly the guys from the UK, are doing very well and fill the top-three spots in the world right now — Rory, Luke and Lee. What's your take on that?
It's impressive. It just shows the quality of golf they're playing. I don't think it highlights anything other than that. It's not that other guys are playing bad golf, it's just they're playing really good golf. It's been interesting to watch the last couple of months, sitting at home watching guys like Rory play spectacular stuff. I didn't get to see the final nine holes at Honda, but it was fun to sort of watch golf again. I loved watching the playoff at L.A. That was cool. The putt Billy Haas made was phenomenal. And the 10th hole [at Riviera] is just one of the best holes in the world and creates entertainment.
Were you rooting for Rory on Sunday?
Yeah, what better way to become No. 1 than to win a golf event. I thought that was cool. It's kind of like Luke last year to win the money title. He won at Disney. Most of the time guys out here, you don't kind of go one way or the other. You watch it, you observe it, sometimes you have two friends playing each other, and you don't really pick sides, you see cool golf. But there are occasions when you want guys to win because it would just be cool, they are a good friend or something like that. If I watch Westy and Rory play each other, I sit on the fence on that one. I'm not going to pick sides.
Did you watch that semifinal match?
I watched a little bit of that, yeah. But watching Rory on the weekend, I wanted Rory to win because I know what he's like. Is he a world No. 1? Yes, obviously, the stats say he is. But he's also a great — he's a kid still. Compared to my age, he's a kid. He's a great guy, and it's nice when you get good guys who are also winning.
Do you think he's there to stay at the top? Or is it just hard to say?
He's here for a long, long time. He's here for 20 years or whatever he's going to be around for. Is he going to stay at No. 1? That depends on everybody else and depends on him, as well. He can only control what he's doing. If he continues to win, then yeah, he'll stay there. Our ranking system is pretty fair. You know, it gets some flak every now and then.
Speaking of longevity, are you going to rein in your outdoor activities like mountain biking and snowboarding?
I still like the mountain biking and the snow. Peter Kostis, my instructor, he said, "I don't mind if you go skiing in the future, but I'd rather you stop the snowboarding."
You got to hang out with friends more often and spend more than two weeks at a time at home, right? That's a little different with how much we all travel.
It was really nice to be in Phoenix and discover a lot more of it. I'm never there, so I never realized there was a farmer's market about a quarter of a mile from my house. Never knew it existed. You find weird stuff and discover restaurants and cool places to go, which was nice. I love Phoenix. It's become sort of home, so it was really fun to spend more time with friends and I was getting dangerously close to becoming a local at a restaurant or a bar.
What were your favorite places to go to in Phoenix?
I'm usually found at places like St. Francis, which is a nice little restaurant, sort of a bar, in central Phoenix, or Chelsea's Kitchen, another restaurant around the corner. It was nice. I became a bit of a regular. When you walk in and they know the vodka you're drinking, maybe that's a sign [laughing].
I know you didn't catch Tiger's 62 because you were on a plane coming here, but get this stat: Tiger is No. 1 in total driving [combination of distance and accuracy] currently.
Is he really?
Yeah, this year so far.
Isn't it? It's a little surprising, too, right?
I've played a lot with Tiger, and he was always No. 1 in putting, the best putter maybe we've ever seen. And I'm not taking anything away from his driving because his driving was very good, but it wasn't his strength. Golf nowadays is a little bit different. You can get away with a wayward tee shot every now and then, but he chips and putts phenomenally, so I think that's interesting he's No. 1 in driving.
It's kind of gone the other way where he's struggling around the greens.
Maybe that's a bit of an omen. If the ballstriking is that good and if the putting suddenly clicks, then that's a very, very potent combination.