Tiger Tuesday At Torrey Pines

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Fortunately Tiger Can Take Most Of The Questions He's Asked In Stride, Bad Knee And All - Image Courtesy Canadian Press
Only at the U.S. Open would the first question Tiger Woods fielded after a Tuesday morning practice round be: "What do you think of Ryuji Imada?"

The enterprising Japanese journalist wasn’t worried about course set-up, Tiger’s knee or even the 8:06 Thursday group of Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott.

She wanted to know what Tiger thought about the Japanese up-and-comer who won his first PGA Tour event a couple of weeks ago.

To Tiger’s credit, he gave a surprisingly lucid answer, that the two had played the American Junior Golf Association Tour together years ago and that Imada “has a lot of talent. It’s just a matter of gaining the experience and confidence.”

The U.S. Open is hard to describe to those who’ve never attended it but this year promises to be even more different, as a West coast venue means prime time Eastern television times. My equilibrium is all over the place because I came from the Eastern time zone, specifically the Detroit Red Wings victory parade, to get here.

Flying into San Diego late Monday night, the cool marine winds off the Pacific were a welcome change from the hot, humid mugginess of Detroit Rock City. Getting into Torrey Pines is no easy feat, as early-morning traffic on the I-5 was typically gross.

Add in the fact that the media are parked five miles from the course and the shuttle driver wanted to fill every available seat and we had a cranky crew of media types tromping over hill and dale to get to the media centre.

Once here, Tiger gave a classic command performance in answering every question under the sun. Here’s a sample: On the 614-yard par-5 13th: "We’re almost on Black’s Beach . . . maybe we can hit up and over the cliff to get to the fairway. It’s unbelievable how far back that is. That usually is where they start their hang gliding over there. It’s hard to believe it’s that far back.”

Tiger And His Little Inspiration Sam Alexis Making It All That Much Easier - Photo Courtesy Canadian Press
On how the greens are speedier here than in January during the Buick Open: "The lines are much higher here now. I’m used to seeing lines a little bit straighter, a little bit lower and with a lot less pace. Some of the putts have a lot more swing at the end. They’re rolling out a little bit more."

On the side benefits of not being able to play and go through his normal training: "There’s no way I could have gotten through this without (my daughter) Sam being there.

Spending that much time off and away from training and trying to get better, Sam was absolutely incredible, and I had so much fun doing that.

It took my mind away from the fact I had a surgery done and just watching her grow, walking, running now, it’s been just the greatest thing in the world."

Tiger sure can talk when he wants to but when he wants to give brief and curt answers, he’s also a master. When asked if he’s walked a full 18 holes since Masters Sunday, he simply said, “No.” When asked if he will feel the effects on Sunday after walking four rounds, he countered with, “I’ll be fine.”

After the press conference, I made my way out to the course just in time to see the marquee group of Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Scott Verplank and Kevin Tway play the hellishly tough 4th, 5th and 6th holes.

Lefty Can Go Long But Can He Keep It Straight? He'll Have To At The U.S. Open As He Well Remembers From Last Year - Photo Courtesy Canadian Press
Mickelson hammered a driver on the 488-yard fourth and still had almost 200 yards to the hole. On the 453-yard fifth, he hit his drive way left but his magical recovery skills saw him almost hole out his chip.

On that same green, he tried several heroic chips out of the miles deep rough and even whiffed on one.

On the sixth, the 515-yard reachable par-5, things looked bleak for Lefty when his drive went into a left side fairway bunker. Faced with 220 yards but a good lie, Mickelson calmly put it within 12 feet.

For many of the Easterners and Europeans here covering the event, the unseasonably cold weather has them wondering where summer went. For a seasoned West Coaster like myself, well, I know it is summer.

Alfie Lau is a reporter for the Canwest - Global Group and is based in Vancouver. He has written for Inside Golf for the past four years.

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