x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The golfers get into the Abu Dhabi rhythm

Tiger Woods, the 14-time major winner, is excited to be in the capital and part of an 'incredible field', and he tees off with McIlroy and Donald.

Tiger Woods, centre – with Lee Westwood, left, and Rory McIlory, right – joined Emirati dancers on stage. Woods said he makes it a requisite that he plays different events during the year and experiences new places.
Tiger Woods, centre – with Lee Westwood, left, and Rory McIlory, right – joined Emirati dancers on stage. Woods said he makes it a requisite that he plays different events during the year and experiences new places.

ABU DHABI // The last time Tiger Woods felt this fit at the start of a new season, Rory McIlroy was yet to reach adolescence and Luke Donald was winning the Northeast Amateur in Rhode Island.

Tomorrow he will play alongside both men as the threesome compete together on the first day of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

Yesterday morning, shortly before the Arabian sunshine brought a light sweat to his brow during a nine-hole practice round with McIlroy on the UAE capital's National Course, Woods said at a press briefing that he was feeling physically and mentally healthier than he had for "eight, 10, 12 years".

The 14-time major winner finished 2011 with victory at the Chevron World Challenge last December, ending a 107-week winless streak. Following a two-week break he has been gradually preparing for the new season and is looking to maintain the momentum.

The 36 year old has appeared at the Dubai Desert Classic six times, but is making his debut in Abu Dhabi and is starting his season in the Middle East for the first time. Woods has been forced to miss his favoured season-opening tournament at Torrey Pines to compete in the capital's US$2.7 million (Dh9.9m) event.

"There are probably several reasons why I've wanted to come to Abu Dhabi. The guys who have played here have said just wonderful things," he said, adding the involvement of HSBC helped his decision as they have "been a huge supporter of my foundation for years".

Woods, who took part in a traditional Emirati dance alongside McIlroy earlier in the day, said he tries to make it a requisite that he plays different events during the year and experiences new places.

"This is exciting for me," he said. "It is an incredible field that they have assembled here."

Three of the four reigning major winners, as well as the world's top four golfers, will join Woods, ranked No 25 in the world, this week.

The Californian was quizzed on the imminent release of a book entitled "The Big Miss" by Hank Haney, his former swing coach. The diary covers a six-year period from 2004 up until a month after the 2010 Masters, including the period when Woods took a voluntary break following scandalous revelations regarding his private life.

"Am I disappointed? Yes," he said when asked about the book. "Frustrated? Certainly, because I have to answer the questions." When pressed further on the subject, Woods closed up and gave brief answers: "No", "I don't know", "One might say that".

Despite Woods being exposed for multiple extramarital affairs, he remains the game's strongest crowd puller.

Sergio Garcia, the Spaniard, however said the American's involvement is irrelevant to him.

"To me, [he] doesn't bring anything," he said. "Obviously to the people who come watch it, he does.

"But if he wasn't here, I would still - it would not change my schedule."

Woods is believed to be receiving in the region of $3m for playing this weekend and, while refusing to comment on whether he had reduced his appearance fee, he conceded his schedule is often influenced by money.

"That's one of the reasons why a lot of the guys who play in Europe: they play in Europe and they get paid," he said. "The only tour that doesn't pay is the US Tour."

The 22-year-old McIlroy and Donald, the world No 1, will join Woods at the 10th hole to tee-off tomorrow at 7.40am.

Donald raised eyebrows last year when he said his Northern Irish playing partner was the most talented golfer he had ever seen. When Woods was asked if he agreed with Donald's assessment, he replied that Seve Ballesteros had impressed him more.

"[I've] never seen a person do things with the golf ball that he was able to do and the creativeness that he was able to do," Woods said.

"I never saw [Ben] Hogan hit a ball, never saw Mr [Byron] Nelson hit a ball, never saw Jack [Nicklaus] in his prime. But I did see Seve; it was impressive."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae