|Tim Finchem, Fred Couples, Greg Norman - Paul Casey, - Lee Westwood - Phil Mickelson - March 31, 2010
An Interview with Tim Finchem, Fred Couples, Greg Norman
LAURA HILL: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here at the Shell Houston Open. We also have some media joining via teleconference for this special Presidents Cup announcement. Before I turn it over to Commissioner Finchem, I want to just clear up some housekeeping. We'll take questions here from the floor, then we'll open up the mike for the teleconference questions. Anything related to The Presidents Cup will get taken care of first and then let Fred get on his way. The Commissioner has agreed to stay behind for a couple of minutes if you have any non-Presidents Cup's questions for him once we conclude. All right, with no further adieu, turn it over to Commissioner Finchem.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you, Laura. Thank everybody for being here. I appreciate you coming today and being here. We're delighted to be in Houston and back here again for another year of the Shell Houston Open. We look forward to the competition this week.
You know, as you suspected from the fact that Freddie is here and this big gold cup is sitting here, this is about The Presidents Cup. And before I make our announcement today, I would just like to make a few comments about The Presidents Cup.
It seems -- you know, it's been 18 years since -- or 16 years since we started The Presidents Cup. It's amazing to look back on the competitions that have been held starting with the one at Robert Trent Jones in 1994 in Washington.
We're obviously delighted with what's happened with the cup over the years, and I think I would point out four things that stand out to me. One is the quality of the competition over the years has been incredible. Secondly, that competition has been able to showcase international players from outside the United States and Europe to be able to have those players be able to compete in this team competition. It is terrific.
Thirdly, the charitable impact has been created by The Presidents Cup setting a record this past year at Harding Park of $4.2 million, $22 million since its inception, continues the tradition of the PGA Tour and charity. And finally the various demonstrations of sportsmanship and camaraderie during these matches have been notable, perhaps punctuated by the way the competition ended in a tie in South Africa in 2003.
Each year The Presidents Cup has been better than the last previous years. Harding Park was absolutely terrific. We had terrific fans. We had 600 members of the media from around the world.
When I went to Asia later in November, I think I mentioned this to Fred in Korea, in Japan, in China, that was the first thing that anybody wanted to discuss in every meeting I was in. The worldwide reaction of The Presidents Cup is the strongest it's ever been.
I think there are a variety of reasons for that, but certainly the leadership that was provided by our two captains last year, Freddie Couples and Greg Norman, had a lot to do with that. The enthusiasm they brought to the captaincies when they were designated back in 2008, the commitment they made to promote what The Presidents Cup is all about, I think played into giving us the best competition in the history of the cup.
So, with that, I think it's easy to conclude that as we head to Melbourne in 2011, it's a natural sequitur to have Greg Norman and Fred Couples continue. So today we're formally announcing that Fred, who is competing here this week in the Shell Houston Open, will serve again as captain of The Presidents Cup's team for the U.S., and Greg Norman, who will be captaining the international team.
Greg is joining us by telephone today from Europe, and I know that the folks in Australia are looking forward to the opportunity of hearing from him and asking him a few questions.
To Greg and Fred, I'd like to congratulate them for accepting these positions, it comes with some work and commitment, and thank them for their success in the presentation of the cup last year.
Before I turn it over to the captains for comment, let me just mention that at the 2011 cup, each of the captains will have two captain's assistants to designate, rather than one that has been in the past. I think the growth of the cup and the nature of the involvement between the captain and the various players who are preparing to be on the cup team argues for that adjustment. Greg and Fred will be announcing their captain's assistants at a later date, but we thought it was important that you got that information today.
Fred, if you'd like to make some comments, and then after Fred, we'll hear from Greg Norman before you have an opportunity to ask questions.
FRED COUPLES: First, I'm excited to be in Houston. I went to school here and played in The Shell almost every year, so it's been fun. Talked to Tim a few times about this opportunity again, and I think my year is just getting better and better by being able to be The Presidents Cup's captain in Australia with 12 guys that I look forward to representing our team and going over there and having a great time, which we did at Harding Park.
It's the same thing, Greg and I, we had such a great time working up to the event and then throughout the event. Obviously one team is going to win and one team is going to lose, but we still got through with a lot of fun, and it was just an entertaining week for me in all aspects of being in San Francisco, being a player four times in The Presidents Cup's, and finally having the duty of making sure all of our players were dressed properly and on time, like I usually am.
It was pretty interesting. They didn't know what to expect. I do know through Tim that a lot of them had a good time which made we feel very, very good. But basically, you know, I'm here to represent the guys, be as best a captain as I can.
And The Presidents Cup is a very special to me. I've had a couple winning shots there for our team before, and I played Greg in matches. We played in Australia the last time we were there. He beat us, or he beat Davis and I, he and his partner. So it will be a lot of fun.
I'll answer questions later, but for me, again, truly an honor, and I thank Tim for giving me another opportunity.
LAURA HILL: Thank you, Fred.
Greg, if you'd like do make some comments before we take questions.
GREG NORMAN: Yes, thanks Laura, Commissioner Finchem and everybody.
Freddie, welcome aboard, my friend. Looks like we got another couple years ahead of us. I want to reiterate what Freddie just mentioned. No question about it. It was an experience that I would never thought would be to the level of fun and expectation and just enjoyment that I got out of it.
The way my team came together as an international team was better than I ever expected. I had played on the international team in the past as a player. Sometimes you go in with a little trepidation of trying to rally a team around one international flag when you have multiple nations that are represented.
But I can tell you this, there was many times in the international locker room that I just absolutely had total respect and admiration for all the 12 guys that are on my team. It was incredible to see the camaraderie and the willingness and the spirit that was really driving very hard and deep within the guys to actually win The Presidents Cup. It's a true test of what the game of golf is all about.
In the spirit of the game, it lifts the guys' competitive spirit and edge to go out there and want to go win for the other 11 team members. It was very hard to put into words. The captain and former players, both Freddie and I have been. The experience we've actually felt over the last, oh, I guess since 1994 to where we are right now has just been a wonderful journey, and the next two years will be probably a little bit easier as far as I'm concerned than the last two years leading up to it because we know what to expect.
Our experience level, our expectations of ourselves, and our support team within the PGA Tour. I hope I keep the same support team because they were tremendous allies and assets for me leading up to the 2009 Presidents Cup.
2009 was the spirit of the event. Freddie said there's always a winner and loser. In individual sports, that's the way it goes in sports in general. The spirit that it was played in 2009 is again the standing testament to what the game of golf is about. There's not one team player bigger than the game or one team bigger than the game. The outcome was fantastic. Freddie did an absolutely tremendous job with captaining his team to the victory that he had. His top players played extremely well and it's a tremendous rally. I'm not saying my guys did not.
As I look forward, you know, my well of players is very deep. My -- I started watching the overseas performances already to see how my 12 guys did in the past from last year to where they are now.
Ernie Els has kicked off 2010 in a tremendous fashion. I keep encouraging everybody to keep performing and shooting for the ultimate goal of trying to win The Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Again, just touching on Royal Melbourne, I don't want to get too long with this. I'm a member of that golf club. It's one of my favorite golf clubs in the world. I'm sure Freddie knows it just as well as I do.
So as players taking a team down there, again, we can be a great asset to our team members. Royal Melbourne, the Australian people, they'll embrace The Presidents Cup like they did the last time down there, and hopefully the outcome in same.
LAURA HILL: Greg, thank you very much. Ask those on the phone if you have questions to go ahead and cue up. We'll take questions from the floor here first.
Q. Fred, I know you've already done this, have you gotten your arms around how far you've come as a golfer, not what you do on the course but now you represent this country. What that means to you and how far you have come.
FRED COUPLES: Well, I never really looked at that question or had that question asked, but I think when you're on these teams, you have captains, and my captains were Hale Irwin the first time and Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus. And you look at it, and you look up to these people, and some day you always want to be on those teams.
And then I guess it would be two and a half years ago, Tim came and asked me to be the captain of the team, and it was a little bit like shattering, you know, and are you kidding?
And so this last time, I was more hoping that he would ask again. I didn't really have any idea. I honestly thought that Greg was a lock because it was at Royal Melbourne and it's one of my top three favorite courses.
So I'm not really answering your question because I'm one of the guys. Last year I played the Tour. I saw these guys every single week. I'm not like 60 years old and not seeing them, and then all of a sudden, some legend like Jack Nicklaus where I come up and tell them something to do, I them whatever they needed, whatever they wanted, whatever parings they wanted. And I really had four guys, and I had great help from Andy Pazder throughout the year getting ready for it.
Now I am definitely ready, and I look forward to it the exact thing with a lot of anticipation, but it was truly way more fun than playing golf at Harding Park, way more fun for me. I can't speak for any other person that's ever captained the team, but to have Tiger Woods all the way down to Lucas Glover and the other ten guys, to watch them for three practice rounds and then get ready for the event and then team up was just -- I like doing that.
I watch all sports. I enjoy all sports, but to watch the 12 guys play and practice and have fun was truly amazing to go me.
Q. So for all the honors that you've won in your career, where does this one stack up as an honor?
FRED COUPLES: The No. 1 honor would be winning Augusta. This would be second. No doubt.
Q. You said it was a shattering. Why shattering?
FRED COUPLES: Well, I think for one, there were a lot of people Tim could have asked. And I thought I had done something wrong and, you know, I need to talk to you. It's not a funny story, but I think I dodged him the first day. And then I said, you know, my back is not feeling good, can I meet you on the range?
Sure enough, at L.A. he walked down the hill, which is tough enough to get back up and down it. He said, I have to ask you a question. Would you like to be captain of The Presidents Cup team? There were both sides. I thought maybe I did something I didn't know. Then that question he said, think about it.
And so as an idiot, I said, okay, I'll think about it. I should have said yeah right at the time, yeah, count me in. But it's just one of those things you aren't really expecting.
For me as a golfer, you know, it would be like winning a tournament on Thursday, which doesn't happen. For me to be picked for the Presidents Cup at that time was a little bit eerie. It's not now.
I know Greg and I had a blast doing it, and as he said a minute ago, we both know what to look forward to and we have great people helping us. I know his team, and Andy is right over here, who got me through the year and a half or even longer. And the PGA Tour does a phenomenal job with everybody.
An interview with Paul Casey
JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Paul Casey into the interview room, our defending champion at the Shell Houston Open. Paul, thanks for joining us for a few minutes. First of all, look back on the win last year and then if you'll talk a little bit about your preparations for this week.
PAUL CASEY: Win last year was great. First PGA Tour victory. Wasn't a tournament that I had on the radar until late in 2008. Actually a fellow competitor, fellow oil competitor's tournament, met a few very nice gentlemen from Houston, said you've got to come down with the golf course, you'll be well looked after. They were right.
Had an absolutely blast, enjoyed it. I ended up winning. I think the set-up was part of why I enjoy playing it so much with the very short grass and the way it's kind of set-up to try and prepare guys for next week, and everything clicked and ended up winning. So it was absolutely phenomenal. Can't believie it's been 12 months since last year.
JOHN BUSH: Your form coming into this week, you have four Top-10 finishes on PGA TOUR in as many starts and also some good play on the European Tour.
Comment on your year so far.
PAUL CASEY: It's been -- resultswise, it's been very good. No wins but still very happy with the way I've played. I'm still not quite swinging the golf club the way I would like to.
Having said that, I've been scoring, very, very well. It's. So it's bittersweet. You're -- not knowing what to expect after being injured in the latter half of last year, just sort of enjoying the golf and trying to get back into the swing of playing things and, as I said, the results have been great but there are still certain shots that I'm struggling to hit that normally are in the repertoire and the club is not quite in the position I'd like it to be.
I've been work pretty hard the last couple of weeks trying to get the club in a more neutral position. Wasn't able to hit a draw the last few weeks in Florida which is obviously something which I'm going to need to do this week and I'm going to need to do it next week as well if I want to contend.
JOHN BUSH: Questions?
Q. Paul, do you see any similarities between this course and Dubb Mountain where you've done really well the last two years as far as conditions, firmness of greens, that sort of thing?
PAUL CASEY: Actually I never thought about that. Everybody gets so focused on how this replicates the playing surface that's we'll face next week. I never thought about similarities between this and Ritz-Carlton, Dubb Mountain Golf Course.
Yeah, I guess it's firm and fast. It's certainly not the same. I'm not sure you can replicate -- "Randa Down" in Tucson there, the ball goes so far. We're up at altitude and this is very different through the trees with swirling winds.
You certainly got, you know, big green complexes around here which is somewhat similar but certainly from appearance sake, it's nothing like it.
Q. How much of an effect winning here last year had on your performance at Augusta the following week and would you be happy enough to win this week?
PAUL CASEY: Yeah, I'd be more than happy -- I'd love to win this week but I will admit that I think it took a little bit of steam out of me for the following week last year.
This tournament was a long tournament last year with the rain delays that we had and I think physically and emotionally it took a little bit out of me. If you don't have everything in place going into a Major then you're going to be found out and I think that showed where I finished in the field at Augusta the following week.
I think -- you know, if you look at results after winning tournaments in Europe, I have struggled slightly the following week Abu Dhabi and following up with Qatar. Winning in Abu Dhabi and missing the cut a couple times in Qatar.
Peter Kostis said to me, "You know, you're going to go and defend but you realize that, you know, I want you to be very much sort of ready for Augusta."
I said, "That's fine, But I'd love to be in the same position." I'd love to have a win under the belt and be teeing it up next week. If that's the case, hopefully I deal with it a little bit better and stay a little bit fresher.
Q. What did Kostis mean?
PAUL CASEY: To me, every time I tee it up -- right now this is the most important tournament in my mind, the Shell Houston Open. When I'm finished here then Augusta is the next thing in my mind.
He felt that I was hitting the golf ball really well last year and felt like maybe in a bittersweet sort of way that sort of took away, you know, some of the sort of -- the energy that I had for the Masters the following week but that's the way it was. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I wouldn't change anything.
So, he just wants me to be nice and fresh for next week. That's obviously -- for me, Majors are the things which register at the top of list of golf but this is the most important tournament for me right now.
Q. Obviously the weather delays had an impact last time but fingers crossed there won't be any such problems this time, Paul.
Are there other things that you can do this week that keep you competitive obviously for this week but keep next week in your mind?
PAUL CASEY: I think it's a little easier this time around. I know the golf course. I don't have to spend as much energy learning the golf course, learning the breaks on the greens.
We've had a fairly relaxing day today so far on the range, going to do quite a bit of putting this afternoon and have fun in the Pro-Am tomorrow and then be really ready to tee it up on Thursday.
You know, maybe that will help. Maybe sort of a low key sort of starts the week will help save the energy. I've got three weeks in a row starting next week. There's no point in -- kind of a bit of marathon. No point going out in the blocks so fast.
Q. You didn't go to Augusta this year, right? Was it is just not possible or --
PAUL CASEY: I must admit I had thought about it. I actually thought about flying down there even early this week, Monday, to sort of have a look at it.
It's a long way to go from Arizona. It doesn't seem like there's anything too drastic. I've read about some of the changes. I'm not going to panic about it. I think -- focusing on trying to -- keep saying it but the energy thing keeps coming up. I feel that's probably more important.
I know there's certain things, they widen the opening to the second green by 8 feet. Is that something that's really -- do I need to fly all the way over there to check a out a change like that? Maybe.
You can certainly get a lot of really good practice in. I'm very glad that I did it when I was -- the first couple of trips to Augusta was certainly great preparation, gave me lots of time and nice -- you can just wander around the golf course and take your time and learn it very, very well but now I've learned it. There's no drastic changes this year. I haven't felt that it's been a necessity.
Q. Have you had a chance to play this year out here yet?
PAUL CASEY: Not yet. Christian, my caddy, has walked around. We're going to save it for tomorrow morning.
Q. What works best for you ideally the week before the Major, to rest or to play?
PAUL CASEY: Don't know. In the past I've taken the week off before most of the Majors. U.S., PGA obviously everybody plays, Bridgestone. The Open the last few years I've traditionally taken the week off before that.
I think I done the same leading up to the Masters. I don't know. I haven't yet won a Major so when I do, whatever I do the week before maybe I'll continue to do that (laughter).
Q. You played great when you won the Match Play.
PAUL CASEY: What did Paddy do when he won his first? The third week in the row. Does he continue to do that?
Q. Stopped it this year.
PAUL CASEY: I don't know. There have been tournaments where I've won, I've been on a long stretch of tournaments. There's tournaments I've won where I've been fresh and haven't played in a while. I have no idea. I've tried to figure it out.
Q. What's your approach when you play practice rounds? Are you trying to focus on mechanical things or are you seeing what's going on with the course?
PAUL CASEY: I'm seeing what's going on with the golf course. If there's a couple of tricky shots I might need to practice for the week, then I'll work on it. It's certainly not -- I'm not thinking about anything other than how am I going to get around this golf course in as few a shots as possible when Thursday comes.
Q. Augusta next week, is your game ready for Augusta next week? Would you rather Augusta be this week or perhaps two weeks?
PAUL CASEY: No, I'll be ready, yeah. No.
Q. Ready to peak?
PAUL CASEY: Trying to peak at the right time. It's an ongoing thing trying to -- it's golf, though, isn't it, it's an ongoing quest to figure out the game?
So, you know, I'm certainly -- last week the practice was going pretty well. I was starting to hit the shots that I need to hit in order to play well around there. I'm looking forward to it, I really am.
Q. Moreso than other years, do you feel that opportunity knocks maybe for yourself or four a European golfer in the Major Championships this year moreso than other years and why?
PAUL CASEY: Why? Difficult to answer that why for other players. For myself I feel like I'm coming into -- I feel like I got my, I guess my sort of best years ahead of me. You know, I've had -- I've had some good performances in Majors before, especially the Masters, but I'm certainly a lot more mature now than -- obvious statement. I'm obviously more mature than I was before.
PAUL CASEY: I'm older, grayer. Yeah. I feel like the next eight, ten years, that's my big opportunity and, you know, it's been 1996 was the last time an Englishman won a Major? '99 was the last time a European, Olazabal, the Masters?
Q. You feel ready?
PAUL CASEY: I feel ready, yeah. I think there have been certain things in the past which maybe weaknesses in the game or not a -- in the past maybe something like simple, like it's not simple but like an acceptance of everything that will go with becoming a Major champion and sometimes something like that seems fairly trivial but that will hold you back as a player, you know, if you're not ready for that.
I feel ready for that. So, to me, now the next eight, ten years, that's -- I've got to capitalize on that because it's my opportunity now.
Q. So when did you feel that you had made that step then from not being ready to be ready? When did you realize that?
PAUL CASEY: I think probably sort of this time last year was really feeling very comfortable with the game, got the win here in Houston, things going in the right direction.
You know, something like moving up to 3 in the world and you go by one, two weeks, cracky, I'm 3 in the world. How does that happen?
I must admit I spent sort of a week or two thinking about it and then you go it's pretty cool. I'm happy to be Top-5 player in the world or Top-3 player or whatever that might be, and I'm happy with the pressure. I can handle this, I'm ready to go and perform every single week. I want to play against the best and try and beat the best.
Q. How did you come off from the injury? You were right up there. Suddenly, through not no fault of your own, you bombed out.
PAUL CASEY: It was kind of my fault. I'm very happy with where I am physically and I must admit I was worried about what that would mean where, you know, is there something I'm going to have to deal with for a long time or forever. Am I going to get my golf game back to where I was last year?
There were lots of questions and, you know, it was great motivation sitting on the sofa watching guys like McIlroy and Westwood go head to head in Dubai, but I desperately wanted to be a part of that and I wasn't sure whether I would be, whether I would be, you know, in the future.
So, I'm very happy. I've learned a lot about myself but also my body physically and why that happened, the problems -- there's a reason why I tore the muscles because of certain area of the body, shoulders are not moving the way it should be, putting stress on other parts of the body.
So with a bit of luck, you know, I can prevent stuff like that happening in the future and have a long career and a healthy career.
So in a roundabout way maybe it was a good thing it happened then and I'm still at an age where I can deal with it and get back to it.
Q. Do you think the psychology is different for guys heading into this Masters because since it feels like the beginning of time there was a guy who was overwhelming favorite, who is now more of an unknown quantity going around? Do you think that changes the feeling with people?
PAUL CASEY: I don't know. I haven't talked to -- I haven't got the feeling of what the players are thinking since it's been announced that -- I presume you're talking about Tiger coming back at Augusta.
As Derrick mentioned to me on the range, there are guys like John Cook saying Tiger is playing the best golf he's every seen. He's going to win hands down. So, I don't know.
I think guys are very much focused on their own game and to me it's always about conquering -- not conquer, but do your best against that golf course and the best against yourself because that golf course, as beautiful as it is, can be fairly relentless at times so that's, I think, what the guys are focusing on right now.
I don't think they're too worried too much whether Tiger comes back as he was before or unknown as you said. We just don't know. There's nothing we can do to worry about it.
Q. Tiger won before. He obviously doesn't win it every year.
PAUL CASEY: There's no point worrying about something that you can't control.
JOHN BUSH: Couple more.
Q. It was hard building on a win last year going to the Masters. What do you think it's like for Ernie and Freddie who are on rolls two and three to try and --
PAUL CASEY: I've not been one of those guys who has managed to string wins together, unfortunately, as much as I would love to get on a roll like Ernie and Freddie, I've never been able to do that.
I think those guys could be very, very dangerous and, you know, if you look at somebody like Freddie, I think Freddie has still got the game to challenge at Augusta, maybe even win it. If he plays that level of golf next week, he's going to surprise a lot of people.
Q. Paul, what do you think the growing popularity of this tournament is because in the past it's been said that a lot of players stayed away because of its proximity to the Masters?
PAUL CASEY: This is only my second time here so not knowing, not really knowing anything about this tournament until I teed it up last year, it's difficult to sort of see how much it's changed through the years.
What I do know is it is talked about a lot amongst the players. The main thing is the course set-up, how the course sets up in preparation for next week and I'm a big fan of that because it seems like we play too many golf courses where the rough is thick, brutal, you're chipping out with a wedge.
It's just nice to play a golf course with a different set-up. So even guys who maybe aren't in Augusta next week, they quite enjoy the change, gives you lots of options and you can be creative about that which I think is a good thing.
Of course, gives I think -- it really opens it up to a lot of guys in this field to possibly win this week.
Q. Can you expand on that, the set-up that they like so much?
PAUL CASEY: The lack of rough around here. Go walk out there, you'll see firm and fast greens and, you know, you're not going to be searching for golf balls the rough.
You'll see where it is. You'll see a couple of fliers. You're going to give them options and allow them to hit creative golf shots. If they pull them off, great. There's also lots of danger around this golf course.
Q. Knowing how difficult it is to go into Augusta on the back of a win, can you fathom how difficult it might be to try and win at Augusta without having played a tournament in five months?
PAUL CASEY: Yeah -- no (laughter). I mean I get nervous teeing it up in Abu Dhabi after not playing for a month.
Q. What was it like after your rib injury when you first played after that?
PAUL CASEY: Well, I tried to play -- well, yeah, in Tiger's event, Chevron. Yeah. I was pretty -- well, I was nervous on two fronts. One, whether the rib was going to stay in one piece and must stay together and, two, what's going to happen? Am I going to shrank it around? Am I going to put a couple of balls in the crowd and is this going to be embarrassing? What's going to happen?
It was very difficult for me to focus on -- I had to try very hard to focus on what I was trying to do rather than worrying about what could possibly happen, you know.
I've been -- you've seen my career. I've been in places when you start to think about where is this going to go, you start to think about that stuff instead of what I want to do with the golf ball, then it gets sketchy. It's not a good place to be in and I find it difficult to get into the correct thinking if I haven't played much.
So I couldn't possibly imagine what it would be like teeing up at Major Championship after a five month break, but it's Tiger so I have a sneaky feeling he'll be absolutely fine.
Q. Paul McGinley came back a couple weeks ago.
JOHN BUSH: Paul, thanks for coming by. Good luck as you go for No. 2 at Redstone.
An interview with Lee Westwood
MARK WILLIAMS: Lee Westwood. Thanks for joining us here at the interview room at the Shell Houston Open. This is your fourth trip here and No. 4 in the world. Just tell us what you like about coming to Houston, obviously the week before the Masters, and what you like about the Redstone Golf Club.
LEE WESTWOOD: I do love the golf course. I think it's a great test of golf out there. If you hit the ball well, you get rewarded. If you hit it poorly, you get penalized. That's all you can really ask from a golf course.
The conditions are normally pretty testing. It's normally a decent breeze blows around here. Hopefully the weather is going to be good all week this week. The forecast it pretty good.
The greens will firm up and they're obviously running very quickly, I think. And they do that to help us with next week in mind. I know last year I was leading after 9 holes and the breeze got up and called us off for a day. You know, it's what they try and do. Yeah, I enjoy playing the place. Seems to suit me.
MARK WILLIAMS: Before we have questions, is that one of the main reasons you like to play the week before the Masters, is because it's here on this golf course and the conditions are that similar?
LEE WESTWOOD: For me, yeah. That's one of the reasons. I think that's why they got such a strong field this week because it's a great -- I don't want to call it a warm-up for the Masters but it is reflective of next week's golf course.
I think the Shell Houston Open is a big tournament in its own right and, you know, a great one to win, one of the older tournaments with a great history and good champions. It's one you look to win but it does prepare you very well for next week.
MARK WILLIAMS: Let's have some questions for Lee.
Q. What's your game like at the moment, Lee?
LEE WESTWOOD: My game is pretty good, yeah. The weather isn't too bad. I was at home two weeks. I played at home. I certainly played more when I had breaks the previous part of the year and played at Augusta on Sunday and Monday, which kind of gets you focused in a little bit for play and, yeah, I'm looking forward to this week and feeling in pretty good shape.
Q. Are you concerned at Dubai, it hasn't quite lived up to that?
LEE WESTWOOD: Not really, no. I haven't really worked on my golf game that much. Done a lot of training in the gym but when I've gone home and week off, I haven't played you know, the week between Dubai and Match Play.
I didn't have a chance to practice because the weather was poor. Similarly, the Match Play and all was over and before the Honda, I -- weather was poor. Even I had a knee injury as well. I couldn't hit balls for ten days going into the Honda and managed to finish 9th.
I've obviously set high standards last year and 3rd in Qatar and Dubai. I suppose looking at finished 9th and 30th and think that's not good enough.
Still not too bad, is it?
Q. You're still ranked 4th in the world.
LEE WESTWOOD: Yes.
Q. With Augusta next week, are you ready for it?
LEE WESTWOOD: I fell more ready for the Masters this year than ever before. It was good to get out there with nobody there, no crowds there and just be able to wander around and I never thought about doing that before. It really is a big advantage to be able to get out there and do your work with nobody sort of watching you.
Q. Was it that trip that makes you feel more prepared than before?
LEE WESTWOOD: No. Just the way the first part of the year has gone. Historically, I'm not that sort of a quick starter in the golfing year and I feel like I've started pretty strongly this year.
I've certainly had more World Ranking points than I had done in previous years and, you know, winning more than I have been in previous years. I'm quite happy with the way the start of the season has gone.
Q. What aspects really do you need to focus on this week do you think? Is there anything in particular?
LEE WESTWOOD: I think short game is vital around Augusta. I think putting on these greens being so fast will be a good preparation for next week, too.
Got lot of imagination around both of these golf courses. These are undulating in places. When the greens get that quick you have to factor in the breeze and all sorts of different things.
On and around the greens is where I've been working most the last couple of days over there and this week when I'm not playing, I think most of my time will be dedicated to being around the chipping green.
Q. How have your preparations changed for Augusta over the years? You played ten Masters. What have you done in previous years and what are you doing this year that's different?
LEE WESTWOOD: I haven't really done that much different, you know, I haven't really -- too many chances to win. I think this year finally seeing the light and tried something different and I think it will pay dividends.
Q. Going there for the practice days, Sunday, Monday, was the first time you've ever done that?
LEE WESTWOOD: First time I've ever done that, yes. I've normally arrived on Sunday evening and played Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. It's quite a demanding place mentally.
If you're having to take everything in when you're playing practice rounds, just before you're about to play, you can be drained by the time the tournament starts.
I think that's why mainly most people go a couple weeks before so they can have a couple of weeks just kind of thinking about what they're going to do the week of the Masters, sort of 30, 40 percent for two weeks rather than going in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before and then having to be thinking a hundred percent about everything that's going on and it draining you.
Q. How much are you here to win the Shell Houston Open and how much are you here for Augusta?
LEE WESTWOOD: It's my primary reason for being here. Like I said earlier, it's a big tournament in its own right with a rich history and great winners, played on a great golf course. You know, it's 12 years since I've won on the PGA Tour. I'd like to do that again.
Q. Lee, with what they're doing here, you know, firming up the greens, obviously you can't mirror Augusta. Is that really beginning to catch on with people, I mean with the great fields that are coming and the preparation, even though it's different grass and different undulations?
LEE WESTWOOD: I think the people appreciate this golf course because it's such a stiff test. It really does test you. You need to hit the fairways, to have the control on the ball going into the greens. You need to have good distance control.
When the breeze starts blowing, picking up a bit, there's some really tough shots. The water is quite close and the pin is close to some of the edges. You got those roll-offs into some tricky spots and even roll-offs into water.
So it really does focus your mind on this golf course. I think it's probably one of the stronger tests on this Tour and you have to play really well to win this week.
Q. Did you see what Ernie said about you in watching you play?
LEE WESTWOOD: Good or bad?
Q. In the Honda watching you play and watching you swinging.
LEE WESTWOOD: Did he tell you about giving all the tips that he's gone on to win? Watching him made me work hard. I hope I'm able to do it so quickly. It's nice that he said things, yeah. I've always gotten along very well with Ernie.
We played quite a bit. I'm assuming he's talking about when we played at Seminole a couple of weeks back the Monday of Doral, the CA, and -- I thought his game was in great shape, you know, the way he played that day.
He had a lot of control and it was no surprise for me to see him win that. I would have put him -- if I had to pick three, four players I would have put him in that four.
Q. Who do you see as the favorite for next week?
LEE WESTWOOD: Well, I don't think you can look far past Phil, Tiger, Ernie. Paul Casey has got a great there for there. Anybody with a fantastic short game. Paul, because he hits it high. I'm quite confident about my own chances.
Q. You think Tiger can win or is that absurd?
LEE WESTWOOD: You have four, you can do them each way, can't you?
MARK WILLIAMS: Can you talk a little bit, tomorrow, you're involved in the Caddy for the Cure participating tomorrow. Do you know anybody about the person who donated to this worthy cause to caddy for you tomorrow or are you in the dark about that?
LEE WESTWOOD: Yeah, I'm in the dark about that but I've been auctioned in Pro-Ams in Europe before for different charities when they've come along and said can you give us some help?
It's quite a good way of raising money. The people bid in auctions and they get to see firsthand really on the day before you actually get competitive what the course is playing like and get to know us a little bit. It's a bit of sort of money can buy, obviously, because it's kind of a money can buy sort of opportunity.
MARK WILLIAMS: Pretty good situation. Did you get contacted about that awhile ago or did you just offer to do it?
LEE WESTWOOD: I offered to do it. I heard a couple of other guys had been doing. I saw Jack Nicklaus was doing it at the Honda. I think somebody paid a fortune for that, as they would.
Then I saw like their ambassador, Chris, I think his name is, and we stood on the back of the range with a guy that used to caddy for Bernhard
An interview with Phil Mickelson
Q. What do you think about being here today?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to be here in Houston for a reason other than treatment. So it's been fun to get out here.
The golf course is in great shape as always. They do a great job here of making the course play similar to what we'll have next week without the rough. The lightning quick greens, the shaved banks. It's really a great job.
Q. It's a big deal.
PHIL MICKELSON: It is for us. It makes us -- I think an advantage for the players who play here going into next week, because the ball will react certain ways out of the first cut of rough and fairway, getting adjusted to the speed of the greens. All that goes into preparation for next week.
Q. Couples was named as captain of The Presidents Cup. What do you think about that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's terrific. He was a wonderful captain last year. We had a lot of fun with him. We've sent a few texts back and forth, kind of joking about some of the stuff. I would expect for the players to go all the way down to Australia, to have Fred as the captain will make the week a lot of fun. That's the real key is making it a lot of fun.
Q. What is the key to being a good captain?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that it's varied. We've had great captains that have been totally different personalities. The Ryder Cup, Zinger was one incredible captain who gave us a lot of direction and put us in little pods and so forth and we knew who we were going to play with. Fred was a very relaxed captain, and made it a fun week and dynamics worked out great.
Q. Phil, Couples had has a hard time getting his arms around being the guy. He rattled off the names being the captain. How he's grown the game as a representative, as a player. How do you view him?
PHIL MICKELSON: He's been an incredible asset to the game of golf. He's got great fan appeal, lot of charisma, wonderful game, and draws people to watch, and it's exciting to see what he's doing with the Champions Tour. Not only is he winning, but he's winning with flare and he's exciting to watch and compelling. He brings that element of personality to the game.
Q. What do you think about what Ernie Els is doing?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's terrific to see him step up and play great golf. For a year or two probably hasn't played his best. He looks great.
Q. What about your game?
PHIL MICKELSON: My game this year hasn't been what I expected. Again, I keep saying it doesn't feel far off, it doesn't. I haven't put together the scores, and I think this week here in Houston is an important week for me because I feel like my game has been pretty close. My putter started to feel really good last week. I need to put together some good scores, especially heading into Augusta.
Before last week, I thought it was putting the game pretty good. Last week I started to putt pretty good, but I didn't score well. I made a lot of mistakes and had a lot of penalty strokes.
This is a challenging course because there's so much water and so many hazards out here. It's going to be a good test for me to try to go through this round and manage my game, avoiding a lot of big mistakes because I feel like my driving as well as short game -- putting is pretty sharp right now, but I've got to put it altogether and shoot a number.
Q. Phil, I know you're used to it, but around here, what does it mean to you that when you play in tournaments like this, such a big deal for the tournament and the people that show up? I know you're used to it, but what is that like for you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's flattering to see this tournament be successful. It has a strong feel, great date. Not just myself but a lot of players here who are in the Top 20, 30 in the world rankings getting ready for next week are here. Lot of international players, strong field.
There are some guys that would prefer to get ready for the Augusta by taking a week off, and so we'll miss out on some of those guys. Many of them prefer to play and get their game sharp.
Q. How is Amy doing?
PHIL MICKELSON: She's doing okay, thank you.
Q. What about the reception you've gotten from some of the folks you've met in your time in Houston?
PHIL MICKELSON: We spent a lot of time here in the last year. We're very fortunate to have such an incredible medical center like you have here in Houston anywhere in the U.S. We've had some tremendous care, and it's been very heartwarming to see how much time and effort these doctors have put into studying and trying to cure these diseases, and for us to be able to benefit from that is very special.
Q. You spent a couple days at Augusta, got away, worked on your game. Did anything kind of come together there that you're going to take out here this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: I had a good last two days at Augusta. The practice facility there is incredible. I was able to get a lot of time on that, and, like I say, my game feels pretty sharp now, it really does.
I haven't put together the scores. Maybe I missed the ball in the wrong spot where I couldn't get up and down or I had a few too many penalty strokes. I need to put it together this week in a sense that I want to get some momentum heading into next week.
Q. Your thoughts about Tiger coming back, the anticipation of next week?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's exciting. I think everybody here is just glad to have him back. It's exciting for the game, the notoriety, not necessarily from the last few months, but just the fact he's back playing is going to be great.
Q. Playing tournament golf is a hard thing. I know he's the best in the world. How hard is that to not play and then go play at that place at Augusta?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I mean, I don't know. He seems to have not had a problem with that in the past, looking at his U.S. Open win in 2008. He had a lot of time off before that, and he came back from being injured and was able to win. He seems to be -- be able to do remarkable things throughout his career.
Q. Parts of your game have been frustrating this year. I thought we started to see your putting come around at Bay Hill?
PHIL MICKELSON: I had a couple of really good putting days at Bay Hill. Feels totally different. I feel like I can roll the ball, see the line better, I'm starting it on line. The putter feels -- I don't want to say great, but it does, it feels pretty darn good.
Last week I hit a lot of shots in the wrong spot and missed it in the wrong spot and had penalty strokes. Consequently, my scores weren't that great. This week will be a good challenge for me, because again there's a lot of penalty shots out here, lot of hazards. If I can avoid it and manage my game well, it will give me a great momentum boost going into next week.
Q. Is it in the set-up or the stroke itself you're working on?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's not necessarily the stroke. It's more the set-up. It's not too technical. It's just getting out into the putt and see the line and get the feel for it, rather than mechanically.
Q. I'd never suggest that this tournament is a set-up for the Masters because this is a great tournament in its own right.
PHIL MICKELSON: They've done a great job of enticing players to come here in preparation for the Masters and especially having first cut without rough, having the greens speed up so fast.
In any tournament that has rough like this, I plan on showing up at because this is a perfect way to have shot making, recovery skills, challenges now with the new grooves and the ball coming out of this first cut. I think it's going to make for an exciting event.
Q. In the past year, this has become a special city for you with your wife's treatment here. I know it's very special with you being here this week.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's nice for me to be here outside of treatment. We've been fortunate to have some incredible care here. The facilities, the medical facilities here in Houston are incredible, and for us to be able to take advantage of that and all these doctors and their skill, we've been fortunate.
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