FARMINGDALE (New York): Tiger Woods defends his US Open title this week with a sharpened appetite for further major success, having missed the final two grand slam events of last year while recovering from knee surgery.
The world No. 1 has long targeted the record 18 majors piled up by his childhood hero Jack Nicklaus and he trails by four after winning the US Open at Torrey Pines 12 months ago.
Woods, the greatest player of his generation, is the overwhelming favourite at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course where he clinched the US Open when it was staged here for the first time in 2002.
“I’m excited to be here,” the 33-year-old American told reporters on Tuesday. “Obviously this golf course brings back some great memories for me.
“It’s good to be back and I’ve enjoyed playing out here. The practice rounds have all been good and I’m really looking forward to today. I like my chances in any major.”
Asked who he regarded as the best golfer of all time, Woods replied without hesitation: “Jack. He’s got 18. I’m at 14.”
Woods, who will tee off in today’s opening round in the company of 2007 winner Angel Cabrera and British Open champion Padraig Harrington, will be bidding for his fourth US Open crown.
He has always relished the challenge of competing in the toughest of the four major championships and he arrives at Bethpage fresh from his 67th PGA Tour victory at the Memorial tournament two weeks ago.
“It’s always nice to play well going into a major championship,” said Woods, who clinched his first US Open at Pebble Beach in 2000 by a record 15 strokes.
“To get a win always adds to the confidence, no matter how you win, and especially going into a US Open. Generally this is the hardest major we face, year-in and year-out. It has the narrowest fairways, the highest rough.
“You have to be patient and you have to drive the ball well. And this US Open, being this wet and this long, the rough is so thick,” he added, referring to the rain-softened Bethpage Black layout. “You have to get the ball in play.”
Woods, who defied stabbing pain in his left knee and a double stress fracture of his tibia to win last year’s US Open in a gripping 19-hole playoff with compatriot Rocco Mediate, was delighted with his fitness.
“I feel great,” he said. “It’s fun because before, no matter what I did, I kept getting worse.
“No matter how hard I trained, the leg was deteriorating. I kept doing more damage to the thing. Now it’s the exact opposite.” — Reuters