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Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played nine holes at the course yesterday.
Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy played nine holes at the course yesterday.

Tiger Woods is fine tuning a familiar rendition

The former No 1 has been singing the same song for the last few years but this time he might be almost back to his best.

If by now the Tiger Woods tune has become as excruciating as Billy Joel's Piano Man, well, try to dip into your ration of forgiveness.

For one thing, Piano Man has bludgeoned eardrums for 38 years, two months and 23 days, while Woods's chorus about his good form being just around the corner has begun only its third year or so.

For another thing, Woods is a golfer, and more than in any other game, golfers must practice a benign form of delusion, even if the delusion someday grows accurate, in which case it's no longer a delusion.

If you have never heard some former contender with a game gone kaput describe how he is hitting the ball excellently again but the scorecard has not been reflecting it, then the chances are you have not spent inordinate time around golf media sessions.

In a game so heartlessly mental, kidding oneself does have a place.

Here was Woods last year, arriving in Dubai, coming off his tie for 44th place at Torrey Pines: "It's progressing. I'm putting pieces together and working on the same things. Good things happened at the last event I played in, and it's nice to have some things that showed up that I had not had in practice. It was good. It was good."

Here was Woods yesterday, arriving in Abu Dhabi, his first event of 2012: "Actually it's been quite a few years since I've been physically fit. So I'm looking forward to getting out there and then playing and give it a full season, which I haven't done in a while, so I'm really looking forward to it."

His last season at 100 per cent? "I don't know, probably, I don't know, eight, 10, 12 years ago."

Seeing as how he came to the 2008 US Open at San Diego in a state of fitness most would call alarming, here is where you resist suggesting things were not so bad with a gnarled leg. We should never wish pain upon anyone even when it augments our viewing pleasure.

If you look with excruciating care, you might note an upgrade from winter to winter.

Last year his subject often drifted to his swing-change project, through which the listeners somehow refused to flee the room, showing yeoman professional dedication.

By this year the narrative has veered to physical fitness, plus another little development apparent only to the studious.

In November in Sydney, he almost won, and on December 4 in California, he did win. He won an undefinable matter called the Chevron World Challenge, for which he serves as host.

It is not really a tournament but not really an exhibition. It does not affect the PGA Tour money list but as Woods said tersely in defence: "We have world ranking points."

Viewers included the extremely bored people flipping channels. It did boast 11 of the top 25 in the world, the same as this Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

And the fresh points did blast Woods from No 52 to No 25, removing various qualification complications for 2012 and bringing us toward a semi-fresh rendition of the I'm Almost There chorus. "I think if I have a good year" in 2012, he wisecracked beautifully, "I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year."

The win quelled a two-year drought that might or might not still exist depending upon your view. It has every chance to prove either significant or insignificant.

Factor in, further, that the 155 players Woods will oppose at tournaments have improved considerably over the 155 players of eight, 10 and 12 years ago, a thought you could summarise beginning with the six words "Keegan Bradley has a major title". More people than ever from more places than ever can trip you up.

Extolling how he hit it in Australian wind, Woods said yesterday: "I haven't been able to practise until I got healthy and that's what was exciting about going down to Australia. I was finally healthy enough to practise, and I had not practised a whole lot after I got hurt at Augusta. You know, I missed most of the year, and then to finally be able to get ready for a tournament properly and to do the type of lifting that I think I need to do to be ready, I was finally able to do that, and hence, my game came around, so it's very exciting."

If you made it through that paragraph, hello from the other end.

If you made it through that paragraph and got weary, that's understandable, but remember that if golfers do not think these things, they self destruct.

And if you made it through that paragraph and likened it to Piano Man, that's unfair. Keep perspective. Piano Man is much, much harsher.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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