x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

No Tiger for Desert Classic

Tiger Woods will not defend his Dubai Desert Classic title in January, says his best friend on the PGA Tour, Mark O'Meara.

Tiger Woods reacts after taking a shot during the final round of the US Open, the last time he competed in a tournament. He will miss the start of next season.
Tiger Woods reacts after taking a shot during the final round of the US Open, the last time he competed in a tournament. He will miss the start of next season.

DUBAI // Tiger Woods will not defend his Dubai Desert Classic title in January, according to his best friend on the PGA Tour, Mark O'Meara. The world No 1's recovery from knee surgery undertaken in June is going smoothly but not quickly enough for him to make a return to action at Emirates Golf Club.

O'Meara, who triumphed on the Majlis course in 2004 - two years before the first of Woods' victories here - had lunch with golf's most famous figure three weeks ago and got a full run down on his fellow American's mental and physical condition. "Tiger is doing really well and he is pleased with the way the operation went," said O'Meara, who was visiting the UAE in his role as an ambassador for Golf in Dubai for yesterday's official launch of next month's Ladies Masters.

"I'm afraid the Classic [on Jan 29] is coming round a little early for him to be able to defend his title. That's a real pity. He is going to aim for a return in late February or early March. "He is not going to start hitting balls until the end of December so it would be pushing it for him to come here in January. I imagine he will make his comeback in one of the Florida tournaments. His plan is to play a couple of events before the US Masters [in April].

Woods has not swung a club since hobbling round his favourite Torrey Pines course to win the US Open in June where he was forced to endure an 18-hole play-off against Rocco Mediate before claiming his 14th major title.O'Meara, though delighted to see the player he mentored as a Tour rookie move to within four of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, felt it was a mistake to play in that tournament. "I've known for more than two years how serious his knee injury was," said O'Meara, 51.

"It was really bad but it was not for me to tell anybody. I had to keep it hush, hush. "But the doctors who did the surgery are friends of mine and they let me know the extent of the problem. But it's too late now. We can only look forward." While the golfing world has misgivings about their main personality's dominance of the sport, O'Meara, who attributed his own major successes - he has won the British Open and US Masters - to working closely with Woods, delivered a powerful message seeking to dispel those doubts.

"I have made some bold statements in the past but many of them have turned out to be true. I will make another now: Tiger Woods will return to the game even stronger than when he left it," he said. "And if that happens then all those looking to take over from him had better watch out. "Having this break enforced upon him at his age and at this stage of his career may turn out to be the best thing that has happened to him. He has been able to spend quality time with his family and has had a good long rest.

"When we watch him we are watching history being made and that's a great thing. "A lot of people are pulling for him to make a complete recovery and I know he is itching to get back inside those ropes and start competing again. He has four to go to tie Jack [Nicklaus]. If anybody can do it, he can." wjohnson@thenational.ae