BETHESDA, Md. (USA Today) -- Tiger Woods returned to Congressional Country Club on Monday for the first time since winning the 2009 AT&T National.
He said it was good to see an old friend.
"I love this golf course," Woods told USA Today Sports during a promotional tour in the Washington, D.C., area for the June 28-July 1 AT&T National, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. "I think it's a fantastic tee-to-green golf course. You have to drive the ball well to get into some of these flags, but once you get on the greens, there's a lot of pitch to these greens, a lot of movement, usually from back to front.
"And placing the ball in the correct spots is vital to give yourself a chance, because a couple of the holes, if you put it above the hole, you're not going to make the putt and more likely you're probably going to end up three-putting unless you make a 6- or 10-footer."
His 7,500-yard buddy, however, took a beating last year during the U.S. Open. With rains saturating the grounds before and during the second major of the season, the course never could play fast and firm. As a result, Rory McIlroy set records en route to an eight-shot romp, finishing what is annually the toughest test in golf at 16-under-par 268. Nineteen other players broke par.
Woods, the only active player with three U.S. Opens on his résumé, said he hopes the weather cooperates this year for the AT&T National.
As in warm weather.
"I would like to see it difficult. I always want to have this golf course difficult or any venue that we host the tournament at," said Woods, who will return to the PGA Tour at the Memorial Tournament next week in Dublin, Ohio. "Unfortunately, because I'm playing the event, I can't influence (the setup) that much - that much. Trust me, I always voice my opinion of how I like the golf course to be, but ultimately it's up to the rules staff and how they want to set it up."
As for his golf game, Woods, ranked No. 7 in the world, said he took a few days off after his most recent tournament and has just started cranking up his workouts on the range and in the gym. Since winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, Woods finished in a tie for 40th at the Masters, missed the cut in the Wells Fargo Championship (just the eighth missed cut of his career) and wound up in another tie for 40th in The Players Championship this month.
"I'm headed in the right direction," Woods said of his season to date. "You have to understand, even when I've had some really good years, whether it was in the early 2000s or mid-2000s, whatever it was, even if I was winning golf tournaments, I still felt like I could improve and I could still get better each and every day. I never looked at it and said, 'Wow, that's my peak. I can't get better.' If that was the case, I would have walked.
"Like anybody who plays this game, I think we can get a little bit better. I'm just going to continue to try and improve, incremental steps and every facet of my game, and make every facet of my game more efficient."
He'll do so in front of the critical eye of the news media and fans. When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the consensus was that Woods was back to his pre-scandal form. After three lackluster starts in succession, the talk now centers on when Woods will be back. Like his golf game of recent vintage, the talk has been up and down.
"I've been through this before," Woods said. "I remember I had a pretty good year in 2000. And I didn't win for a couple months. And the word 'slump' came about. And that's basically the same thing that just happened here. I just played three events, and "When are you back?" Well, I just won a tournament (four) tournaments ago.
"I think that's the nature of the new media business. You've got to be able to stand out somehow to get eyes going to your site or to your medium, and I think that's one of the reasons why there's the criticism that there is."
While his swing is a work in progress, Woods said his mental game - once the best in the business by miles - is still strong.
"I think that one of the things that I am proud of is the fact that I do grind it out," he said. "If I would have packed it in over the course of my career, I would have missed a lot more cuts over my career, especially of late when I have not been playing well. But I fight. I grind it out.
"It's just that, unfortunately, I haven't been able to equate that into W's, because it's one shot here and there. Sean (Foley) was telling me the other day, if I had improved my final rounds by two shots, I would have had four wins this year. That's something if I look at it, at things like that, I'm close and just got to keep going."