x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Tiger Woods is still the main attraction

Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, has been reduced to a support act for the 14-time major winner in Abu Dhabi, writes John McAuley.

Tiger Woods has made a strong march to world No 2 apart from earning Dh22 million in prize money since making a comeback. AP Photo
Tiger Woods has made a strong march to world No 2 apart from earning Dh22 million in prize money since making a comeback. AP Photo

And so he is back. Note "he" and not "they". It does a wild disservice to Rory McIlroy, the current and deserving world No 1, that he does not represent the headline act for January's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, but in these parts the galleries, golf fans and otherwise, flock to see Tiger Woods.

The conveyor belt of major titles has ceased, and his young rival from Northern Ireland suggests it is a shiny, new landscape, yet the man with the best active CV in the game still puts posteriors on seats or, more significantly, millions on television viewing figures.

Woods, of course, is no stranger to the country – the Omega Dubai Desert Classic was a familiar UAE haunt – although when he arrived earlier this year for his maiden appearance at the National Course we wanted to see if the long road to redemption was nearing its end.

The 36 year old had only just returned to the top 50 in the rankings, revealed the aches and pains had disappeared for the first time in eight years and, on the back of victory at the Chevron World Challenge, tempered, somewhat, the questions surrounding his ability to win again following his personal turmoil.

Against a field that constituted the second strongest in European Tour history, Woods was beaten to the Falcon Trophy by Robert Rock, an Englishman of modest makings, who summed up "as nothing much" his previous contribution to the game.

However, Woods has since triumphed three times – trusted tournaments in The Invitational, The Memorial and the AT&T National – climbed back to the world No 2 spot and accrued more than US$6 million (Dh22m) in prize money alone.

That common conjecture suggests the American is receiving half that amount, or more than the 2012 event's entire purse, simply to turn up in Abu Dhabi should not go unnoticed.

Yet, if true, that is the price it seems Brand Tiger, irrespective of its dimming by scandal off the course and scramble on it, can command.

With a sportsman of his stature a storyline is always readily available, and his burgeoning battle with McIlroy certainly imbues Abu Dhabi with a sense of the spectacular.

The two golfing gunslingers were partners during this year's opening rounds, but this is different. Woods is back. "They" will be eager to find out to what extent come January in the desert.


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