Tiger Woods, 666th in world, still Dubai’s star attraction
The 14-times major champion remains bullish, insisting ‘the goal is to win it’
Tiger Woods plays his second shot on the eighth hole during the pro-am for the 2017 Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty Images
Much has changed in Tiger Woods since his years of dominance were ended by drama and injury, but his mindset is one thing that remains. In Dubai on Wednesday, as he prepared for the rarity of a second tournament in as many weeks, he insisted he has no intention of becoming a ceremonial golfer.
The 14-times major champion is also not of a mind for quiet reflection. “I try not to go down that path because I like to consider myself a player and a guy that is playing out here and competing,” he said. “I know I’ve been away from it for a long period but that just got me thinking about other business opportunities. So as far as the golfing side of it, I know I’ve accomplished some pretty neat things over the course of my career and I hope I can continue.”
Woods will begin the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday ranked 666th in the world. Making the cut would be progress. “No,” replied Woods when asked if his tournament aims have receded. “Because if I’m teeing it up, the goal is to win it and that doesn’t change. Whether I’m injured, coming off an injury or I’m playing well, or I’m playing poorly, if I’m in the event, it’s to win.”
His bullish stance is understandable, but more intriguing was Woods’ response to whether he would remain on tour if he was only ever likely to finish in the top 20 rather than win.
“It’s about preparation,” he said. “If I can’t prepare to win a tournament, I feel ill-prepared to hit the shots and handle the shots down the stretch and I’m not able to pull them off at home, there’s no reason why I should expect to be able to pull them off out here.
“That’s why I take practising so seriously at home. And I’ve always said that over the years; that I would much rather practise than play because I like to have all those shots. So when I come out here, it’s not a surprise. I’ve pulled off all the shots.” The interpretation was: when that warm-up flexibility stops, so does Woods’s career.
Woods improved on the back nine of the Desert Classic’s pro-am, his driving previously wayward. He did at least have lack of sleep as an extenuating circumstance. “My mother called me about 2am, woke me up, and asked me how I was doing,” Woods said. “I said: ‘Mom, you realise there’s a nine-hour time difference?’”
The Woods circus here has been quite a sight at his second tournament since returning to the PGA Tour after an absence of 17 months. For all he may be clambering back towards competitive relevance, his status remains higher than any other golfer. Even players have sought autographs and England’s Matthew Southgate took to Facebook to post an open letter towards the hero he met at the 2002 Open Championship. “Fifteen years later here I am, sat in the Grand Millennium Hotel in Dubai in preparation for that special chance us golfers all dream of – the week I get to go toe to toe with the Tiger,” he wrote.
How does Woods respond to such adulation? “It just means you’ve been around a long time. That’s all it means. I’ve been out here actually just a little over half my life, so when you put it in terms like that, it’s kind of easy to see why players who are on the younger side, that some were born after I won the  Masters, they are out here. It’s just a changing of the guard.”
Thomas Bjorn famously conquered Woods in Dubai in 2001 when the American was at the peak of his powers. Europe’s Ryder Cup captain offered extra insight into the Woods’ mindset while others swooned. “Tiger will very much understand you only get in that position if you’ve done something extraordinary,” he said. “As much as he is determined to get his career back on track, he will also understand what he is to a lot of people.
“He will understand all of that; which Jack Nicklaus has been, what Arnold Palmer was, what Seve Ballesteros was. I think he would find it worse if he came out here and nobody cared. That would be a bit more like: ‘What’s happened in the couple of years I’ve been gone?’ I think he really appreciates it.”
Golf would relish a Woods renaissance, which he, against all odds, reckons plausible. “I’ve had lean years where I didn’t win,” he said. “I think I have 10 years where I won five or more tournaments but there have also been years where I didn’t win a thing and I struggled. I was changing my game and I did not play well.
“Jason Day said something pretty funny. We were walking in the scoring tent last Friday [at Torrey Pines] and he says: ‘You know, it doesn’t really matter when you win your four tournaments, whether it’s the beginning of the year or the end of the year’. I know we both missed the cut but you win four at the end of the year? People think you’ve had a hell of a year.” –(Guardian service)