SAN FRANCISCO — Tiger Woods is looking for his 15th major championship at the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club later this week, but first he had a college reunion to attend.
Early Tuesday morning, Woods played nine holes with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin. Another Stanford man, Cameron Wilson, filled out the threesome.
Despite not seeing each other in years, according to Woods, he and Martin showed the easy familiarity of former teammates and old friends on Olympic's front nine, with Woods even trying out Martin's long putter on the fifth hole. "Ladies and gentleman, the future Tiger Woods," Martin joked to the crowd as Woods drained an 8-footer.
Martin, who suffers from a circulatory disease that causes pain in his right leg, rode a cart while Woods and Wilson walked. Martin practically has to drag his right leg along with him as he walks, but his swing still exhibits the smooth action that got him into the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic.
"Unless you really know him, I don't think people have an appreciation of how much pain he's in," Woods said of his friend Martin. "I saw it in college, he was my roommate on the road a few times, and this is when we were playing 36-18 [holes]. I don't know how he did it, to be honest with you. I just don't know how he did it."
Woods added that the 40-year-old Martin, who is now the golf coach at Oregon, looks happier than he did years ago when he was suing for the right to use a golf cart in professional events.
"As far as playing with Casey, man, it's great to see him," Woods said. "I haven't seen him in a while. And now he's the coach of the Ducks. And just so happy in life. It's neat to see him. He played the Tour out here, tried that and he was happy doing it, but it's not like he is now. It's good to see him in a really good place."
Woods also looked like he was in a good place as he prepared for his 17th U.S. Open this week, even joking about his long-running animus with the media. Asked if he needs to win a major to silence his critics, Woods smiled and said that even if he won, his critics would say he hasn't won 18 majors yet, or 19 majors yet.
"It's always something with you guys," Woods laughed.
It's not surprising Woods feels pretty good returning to Olympic, where he finished T18 at the 1998 U.S. Open. He won the Memorial two weeks ago, tying Jack Nicklaus with 73 PGA Tour wins. Woods played Olympic often while in college, although it looks very different now. He even made reference to his personal course notes, which if published would probably outsell his ex-coach Hank Haney's book among golf fanatics.
"All my charts are outdated because they've resurfaced every green, so I had to do a whole new book," Woods said.
In addition to the famously long and punishing course setups, Woods said the variety of U.S. Open courses is one reason it's the most demanding major.
"What makes it difficult, I think, is that we're playing different venues each and every year," he said. "It's not like Augusta National where we're playing the same golf course each and every year. We have to relearn a whole new golf course."
During his front-nine practice round with Martin and Wilson on Tuesday, and especially his solo practice round on the back nine Monday, Woods was methodical about testing the bunkers, possible pin placements and chipping areas, especially around the 17th green. Woods said that playing Olympic's first six holes — considered the toughest opening stretch in major-championship golf — in even par would help a player pick up "a boatload of shots," but the last three holes will be crucial to winning the tournament. (The 16th and 17th holes are par-5s, and the 18th is a par-4. Interactive Course Map)
"You'll need to make some birdies there, absolutely," Woods said.
The demanding nature of the course means that Woods doesn't expect much chit-chat between him and Phil Mickelson when their marquee group — Bubba Watson is the third — tees off Thursday morning at 10:33 a.m. Eastern time.
"I don't think we're going to talk about a lot," Woods said. "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."
More from Woods's press conference:
On whether 14-year-old Andrew Zhang is "too young" to play in the U.S. Open:
"He qualified. He earned a spot. I tried it when I was 15, but he earned a spot. He went out there and went through both sections, both stages, I'm sorry, and did it. It's not too young if you can do it. There's no — 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 U.S. Open finishing on Father's Day:
"It is special, there's no doubt. Having my father alive for a couple of them was really special. This tournament meant so much to my dad because he just loved the fact that you got tested. Just the mental test. And, of course, he's a spec op warrior, he's going to like that environment. That's something that I've always enjoyed when the golf course got a little more difficult and became more fun because you had to control more things within you. And ending it on Father's Day, it means something to each and every one of us, just slightly different, obviously. But it has a very special meaning to me, for sure."
On his putting from inside 10 feet:
"At Memorial those putts were going in. I just didn't make anything from about 15 to 20 feet, basically nothing. But I made a ton of putts from 10 feet and in. So that's a positive thing. On this golf course it's going to be difficult to get the ball close. And I'm going to rely a lot on lag putting and obviously we're going to have to make those short putts. Even if you miss the green, pitches are — a good pitch is going to be anything inside eight feet sometimes. That part I'm not too worried about."