Danny Willett: Tiger Woods in Dubai to win Desert Classic
‘There’s a few of us that are going to try and stop him but it’s great to have him back’
Tiger Woods makes his next step on the comeback trail in the Dubai Desert Classic. Photograph: Getty/Ross Kinnaird
The crowd gathered for a Tuesday lunchtime driving range session in Dubai provided the latest indicator of Tiger Woods’s lingering appeal. The man himself even provided more to see than usual, having taken advantage of European Tour rules in order to don shorts.
For all the 40-year-old toppled out of the Farmers Insurance Open on Friday after just 36 holes, Woods’s arrival in the Middle East for the Dubai Desert Classic adds an extra dynamic to this European Tour event. Fellow players, including the Masters champion Danny Willett, acknowledge that much.
“I watched pretty much every shot of his two rounds last week and it was just great seeing him back in action,” said Willett of Woods, who is making his latest return from a back injury.
“And then to have him here this week, I think it’s great for the European Tour; it’s great for Dubai. Obviously it’s a place he’s coming back to; Tiger doesn’t play events just because he wants to play them. He plays events because he knows that he’s got a good chance when he turns up. He has played well around this golf course and he’s got some good memories.
“When Tiger is here it makes things that little bit extra special. He’s going to come here and try and win. And I think that’s great for the European Tour to have, to have arguably the greatest player of all time come to Dubai and to try and take that championship trophy away on Sunday.
“There’s a few of us that are going to try and stop him but it’s great to have him back. It’s great to have him back playing and it’s great for the game and fortunately enough, I’ll be able to be around all week to witness it.”
First hand, at that; Willett will have Woods and Matthew Fitzpatrick for company over the first two rounds at the Emirates Club. Woods has won this event twice with another former major winner, Graeme McDowell, endorsing Willett’s sentiment of how prominent the American can be.
“Tiger Woods is not going to be back playing as many events as he [IS]if he’s not ready,” said McDowell. “He is one of the most mentally tough athletes I’ve ever seen playing any sport and I fully expect him of being capable at competing at the high level again. It is always fun when Tiger is in the field. That moves the needle somewhat.”
Sergio García wasn’t quite as effusive. For all the Spaniard and Woods have endured a famously turbulent relationship, García welcomed his old adversary to the stable of his key sponsor, TaylorMade, as announced last week. “We’re all professionals here,” said García. “I’m proud that he chose to join TaylorMade and obviously TaylorMade were very keen about it. So am I.”
García was less certain about Woods’s career prospects. “Everything is a little bit of a question mark, just to see how he’s going to respond physically and everything,” García said. “So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
“If you ask will he play like the way he did in the early 2000s, it is difficult. He’s got a lot of qualities and he can obviously get to a high level. I think to get to that level is very difficult, even for him, because he’s 40 now. So his body doesn’t move the way it used to move when he was 20, 25.
“But we’ll see. Like I said, I think everything is a little bit of a question mark for all of us, we’ll see how it goes in the next four or five months.”
Woods spent Tuesday afternoon undertaking promotional work, including a helicopter tour, in Dubai. A spokesperson for the soon-to-open Trump Dubai golf course refused to reveal if Woods is scheduled to visit during the coming days.