x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

O'Meara influence brought Tiger here

Mark O'Meara has revealed it was his glowing words about the region that led to Tiger Woods first taking part in the Dubai Desert Classic.

Mark O'Meara plays a shot out of a bunker during the Dubai Desert Classic Charity match at Emirates Golf Club in January.
Mark O'Meara plays a shot out of a bunker during the Dubai Desert Classic Charity match at Emirates Golf Club in January.

Mark O'Meara believes his "amazing" experiences in the Emirates led to his close friend Tiger Woods getting the Dubai golf bug and winning two Desert Classics in three years. O'Meara, 51, has acted like a father figure to Woods, watching over the development of the world No 1 into a genuine superstar of world sport.

The veteran American has been acting as an ambassador for golf in the region for the last few years and regards the recruitment of Woods as one of the key spin-offs from that role. "I have enjoyed playing in the Dubai tournament for the last 10 years," he said. "Like a couple of other players who are regulars there, I have a relationship with Dubai, representing the area around the world and letting other younger professionals know what is happening. It has been amazing for sure.

"I remember going there [in 1999] the year after I won the Open Championship and Masters championship. When I came back to the US, Tiger was intrigued. "He was saying to me 'tell me about it, and how nice is it over there?'. So, of course, being his friend, I told him how nice it was and how much he'd enjoy going. "Now, sure enough, he's gone several times and won the event twice [in 2006 and earlier this year]. It's been a great relationship, it really has."

O'Meara, who today plays in the British Senior Open at Royal Troon in an attractive threeball with two other major championship winners, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer, maintained that golfers around the world are appreciating what is happening in the region. The Abu Dhabi Championship now completes a three-pronged Desert Swing - with the Classic and the Doha Masters. "It's a big destination: travel destination, vacation destination and certainly a golf destination now," he said.

"They've treated me tremendously over the last 10 years." O'Meara had advanced knowledge of the Woods injury problems which led to him withdrawing from last week's Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in the wake of a brave victory in the US Open a month earlier at Torrey Pines in California. He is expecting Woods to be tearing himself apart as his damaged knee is on the mend. "Six months out of action always seems like an eternity, but more so for Tiger Woods than anybody else, trust me," he said. "It's harder for him to sit at home or do his rehab than it is for him to be out here competing, because what he lives for is being inside the ropes and he lives for the competition. He lives for winning.

"We will all miss him while he is away. I feel privileged to have been around him, to be sort of his big brother and to understand what he goes through day in and day. "I know he makes a lot of money. I know he's famous and I know he does all the commercials, I know all that, I've seen it all. "But you know what, I don't know how he does it, to be honest with you. You have to be special, and he is."

@Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae