Tampa Bay Championship interview: Justin Leonard

March 16, 2013

MORE INTERVIEWS: Tampa Bay Championship transcripts archive

Q. Start with talking about your round, please?

It's all setup off the tee, and I drove the ball great today. Not sure that I missed a fairway, and you know, from there, you can try and attack a few of these holes.
You know, I was able to keep it below the hole for the most part, and you know, made a few putts in the middle of my round to turn it into a really nice day.

Q. In the other interviews, they had said it's been a while since you've been in contention; does it feel like it's been a while?

Honestly, no. Today I felt very comfortable out there. I know it's just Saturday, but I also knew that I was up near the lead, and you know, it was a very familiar feeling. It's been a while, but, you know, there weren't any surprises out there today.

Q. Is it the old 'riding a bicycle' cliché; that once you've done it, you can do it again?

Sure, I'll use that tomorrow. That's good, thank you.

Q. At one point there were 18 guys separated by two shots, at one point do you just put your head down and go?

I looked over at one point on 12 and knew I was tied for the lead at that time, and when I birdied I figured I was in the lead and I didn't look at another board after that.
Tomorrow I won't pay a whole lot of attention, either, until the last few holes and see if it might, you know, change my strategy at all.

Q. It almost seems like, and maybe you could speak to this, a course where it's hard for anybody to run away; you can run the other direction like Adam's done and whatnot.

It is hard. There's not a whole lot of birdie holes on those last six holes. With the greens getting firmer and faster as they did today, which I'm sure they will again tomorrow, you know, you have to be pretty patient out there and really pick your spots pretty carefully.

Q. Where did you pick your best spot?

You know, 9. 9 was a good example. I hit a 3 wood just to take the right bunker out of play, and I knew the pin was just kind of the back center of the green and 6 iron, 8 iron, it really didn't matter and I hit a 6 iron in there ten feet below the hole and made the putt. Those kind of I think it's going it take those kind of situations and that kind of strategy in order to win tomorrow.

Q. Did you have the feeling coming into the week that this was going to be a good one for you?

You know, I feel like I played Puerto Rico last week and I played pretty well. My scores didn't indicate it, and this is a golf course that I really like.

So, I mean, yeah, there was some inkling, and certainly wanted to get in the mind set of coming in here and not only just trying to have a good tournament, but trying to get in contention, and I've been able to do that.

Q. Good setup for a birdie on 17; did that feel like a missed opportunity?

Yeah, it did. To be able to hit it in there three or four feet below the hole, a little surprised at how much that putt broke. I actually hit the putt the way I wanted to. You know, but that's the greens, and especially those last two greens have a lot of undulation in them. You know, you just have to be careful and commit to things.

Q. How long have you known Jordan?

Three or four years, I want to say.

Q. What do you think?

I mean, I think it's pretty remarkable what he's done, you know, this year, to come out without any status. He's pretty close to having not only Web.com status, but PGA TOUR status. So I know that playing well early like this has probably freed him up quite a bit and it's also motivated him.

You know, I wouldn't say it's remarkable what he's done, but it's, you know, it should not go unnoticed. I don't think it is.

Q. He called you a mentor; A, do you buy that, and if you do, how old does that make you feel?

Well, you know, I vacillate between feeling pretty old and not feeling very old. When Brian Harman says, oh, I enjoyed playing in the AJGA tournament a few years ago, or three years ago or something, you know, then I feel a little old and my back hurts a little bit. But when I get out there between the ropes and I don't have some 25 year old giving me grief, I feel pretty good. (Laughter).

Q. When did you first meet Jordan?

You know, it was at the Byron Nelson, I think maybe it wasn't three or four years; maybe it was a couple years ago. We actually played a practice round on Tuesday, and you know, I played a couple other practice rounds with him since.

I think, you know, he's a great kid, obviously very mature. I can't imagine being out here, I don't even know how old he is, 19? I can't imagine being out here at 19, and to do what he's done. He hasn't just like driven a couple hundred miles. He's been to three or four different countries this year already. It's pretty remarkable. It's beyond the game and what happens on the golf course, but he's handling himself very, very well.

Q. It's been a while since you've been up on the leaderboard; how does that feel?

It feels good. It feels good, yeah. Like I said, there weren't any surprises out there today. And it's Saturday; tomorrow's different.

But I look forward to a challenging golf course and the challenges of my emotions and those things, and just get down and focus on what I need to do.

Q. Not sure I understood what you meant talking about 9 when you said 6 or 8 iron doesn't matter.

I'm not sure either.

You know, I could try and squeeze a driver up there. It was a left to right wind, which is pushing the ball into that bunker, and so I decided just to take it out of play; that, you know, if it was a front pin or tucked or something, then, okay, maybe I need to have an 8 , or 9 iron into this green.

But the pin was back center of the green, it was kind of, you know, not a very difficult pin. So it's one, it's like who cares if I'm hitting 6 iron. So I just took the bunker out and hit a 6 iron ten feet short, jammed the putt.

Q. What's the biggest difference between you back in '97 when you won the British and you today?

Feel that right there? (Smiling, pointing to skin on cheekbones) I can't even quantify the difference. I was pretty singularly focused back then. It was golf and that was about it.
Now, golf's, you know, depending on what day you ask me, it's anywhere from fourth to sixth on my list. You know, it defined me back then, and that was okay because I was playing great. Fortunately, it doesn't define me anymore. I've got a wonderful marriage and four great kids, and I've got my faith that is constantly evolving and growing, and those are the things that are important to me.
And golf is still very important and it's something that I love to do, but it doesn't define me the way that it did then.