Fighting Tiger, hidden trouble
IT WILL not just be the top four players in the world Tiger Woods will be trying to conquer on his seasonal bow in Abu Dhabi this week, but also his "broken concentration". That is the view of Sir Nick Faldo, who does not necessarily agree that the 14-time major champion turned a corner with his first win in more than two years.
Woods will likely have to be at his very best if he is to overcome the challenge posed by the European quartet at the head of the rankings - two Englishmen in Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, an Ulsterman in Rory McIlroy and a German in Martin Kaymer. But after triumphing at the Chevron World Challenge on his last start seven weeks ago, the 36-year-old is plainly confident. "I'm fit and ready to go," he said.
Faldo is just one of millions who will be intrigued as Woods attempts to prove he can once again compete at the very highest level. And, like most, he has his doubts about Woods collecting consecutive titles. "Tiger would win a tournament, disappear, come back, and round one [he played] without rust," so Faldo told Golf Monthly. "He'd come back and shoot 63 on day one, holing every putt. All that is not as easy [for him] as it used to be."
Although Woods claims he is 100 per cent, Faldo wants proof, and because of the strength of competition, the desert would be as good a place as any to start. "He's fighting a lot of things," said Faldo. "How good is his knee? How good is he technically? How good is his confidence? His concentration is broken."
Down at No 25 in the world, Woods clearly has plenty of room for improvement, but he thinks his success in the 18-man, limited field in California has lifted the pressure. "For me, winning the World Challenge like that [he birdied the last two holes to beat Zach Johnson by a stroke], it's a win," he said. "I don't have to answer more questions about when my next win is going to come."
Except the crowds will be flocking in record numbers to the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship anticipating when Woods will next win. He is being paid more than $2m ($AU1.9m) to tee it up this week in the UAE rather than at Torrey Pines, one of his favourite tracks, and already HSBC believes it has seen a return on its investment.
"Tiger is such a giant of the sport that people would still have come to watch," said Giles Morgan, the bank's head of sponsorship. "What is so fascinating is the way he has been working on his game and getting his life into order. I know that he sees 2012 as the year he wants that all to pay off."
Organisers estimate an attendance of more than double the 40,000 last year. The field certainly deserves it, with six of the world's top 10 lining up. Woods, however, remains the biggest draw and it is something of a coup for the European Tour to boast his presence on his campaign curtain-raiser for the first time in his 16-year career.
"He is a superstar," said Peter German, the tournament director. "Not everybody has had the chance to come and see him, and he is still very, very attractive."