Woods insists he can be a Major force once again
It was like old times; Tiger Woods smashing the ball out of sight on the range next to long-standing chaperone Mark O'Meara; smiling, chatting, hitting. The pristine acres of the Emirates Golf Club were largely empty save for a few invited guests. Behind him, shuffling into position, a small gallery of onlookers craned privileged necks to get an unobstructed view.
Welcome to golfing rehab Dubai style, a regal environment of control in which the sport's most precious species can move around in relative freedom. Woods is moving away at warp speed from the toxic frenzy of a year ago. He no longer has the bearing of a cornered animal. Though his swing is still under reconstruction, the karma is restored.
His appearance in Dubai has shot an extra thousand volts through the European Tour. It got him cheap at £2m. As ever, it was standing room only when the cameras rolled. The Woods press conference has long been pointless as a source of news. That is not the purpose. Woods is an event all his own. It's enough that he enters our space. He doesn't have to speak.
His body of work is out there. We know what he is: arguably the greatest golfer there has ever been, indisputably the most filmed, photographed and talked about. Though Woods claims he is not too old to win again at 35, he is walking a line between acceptance and rejection as far as the golfing priesthood is concerned and arrives in Dubai at a fascinating career juncture.
The game has moved on since his 14th and last Major victory in 2008. A cluster of big-hitting twentysomethings has sprung from the locker-room to reset the game's parameters. Woods must respond to golf's new wave and persuade cynics he can contend again.
Woods says he can. "I still feel I can win golf tournaments. I'm not that old. I figure I've got some years ahead of me. I don't always win. I've certainly lost a lot more tournaments than I've won. But it's the goal every week you tee up and that doesn't change."
Woods has not won since Australia in November 2009. This fallow stretch does not break new ground. He's been through similar periods before during episodes of swing surgery. The difference this time is the imperfect light in which his personal flaws have cast him. He is through the worst, no doubt, but there is no way of knowing how the changes will impact on his future.
At Torrey Pines a fortnight ago, his first event of the year, his swing changes unravelled after an encouraging start. "It was frustrating that I didn't perform the way I know I could. I've been here before. It takes time. You don't make changes and just start winning a bunch of tournaments. It was good to have these problems show themselves under tournament atmosphere."
The organisers here ramped up the challenge by placing Woods, No 3 in the world, alongside No 1 Lee Westwood and No 2 Kaymer in the opening rounds. "It will be fun to get out there and play because I haven't played with (Kaymer)," Woods said. "Hopefully it won't be the last time." (© Daily Telegraph, London)