x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tiger Woods no nearer redemption after Desert Swing

The month-long Desert Swing asked a lot of questions of the world's top golfers but Tiger Woods appears to be running out of answers as he attempts to work his way back to the top of the game

An intriguing side issue of the first month-long Desert Swing was the ongoing battle for the world No 1 ranking which until last year had been the undisputed property of Tiger Woods.

Four key questions supplemented the routine inquiries into eagles and double bogeys as the European Tour circus swept through Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Qatar and Dubai.

Could Lee Westwood remain No 1 after performing so well to get there?

How long will it take Martin Kaymer to get there?

Will Phil Mickelson ever get there?

And can Tiger Woods get back there?

The last of those questions is uppermost in the mind, not just because the evidence presented is the freshest, coming during the conclusion of a desperately tight Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

A third victory for Woods on the Majlis Course would have started a tidal wave of euphoria that the good times were returning for the American after a barren spell spanning 17 events over 15 months.

Even a near miss - he was one of 20 players in with a chance of winning on the final day - would have done wonders to restore the on-course credibility of the most famous figure in the game. We got neither.

Instead the conclusion has to be that Woods, nearly a full year into his comeback, is no nearer redemption as he steps up his quest to add to the four more major titles he needs to match Jack Nicklaus's record haul of 18.

The stage was set for Tiger to start roaring again.

One shot behind the joint leaders going into the final round, he was undoubtedly the opponent most of the title contenders were watching most warily.

They need not have worried. Woods, whose reputation has been built on transforming inviting final-round situations into titles, failed to complete the job at the moment of truth.

It happened at another of his productive venues - Torrey Pines - in his previous appearance and it happened again at Emirates Golf Club as he failed to keep pace with Spain's Alvaro Quiros, the eventual winner, and most of the other 20 men who had taken a tantalising glance at the Coffee Pot Trophy.

Woods, who wrestles frustratingly with an as-yet uncompleted overhaul of his once-famed swing, probably will not look back too fondly at his eventual fulfilment of his Dubai contract after withdrawing from the previous two tournaments here because of injury and the scandal surrounding his private life.

Not only did his game fall short of his expectations, his behaviour yet again slumped to an unacceptable level when he spat on the 12th green a few feet away from the hole.

His actions drew a fine from the sport's governing body.

In the end, Woods's underachievement in Dubai helped with the answer of those other three questions about those battling to make the top of the world rankings.

Westwood, who was a shot off the lead when a lost ball at the penultimate hole wrecked his chances, will feel he turned in a performance more befitting a world No 1 than he did in Abu Dhabi where he finished a lowly 64th and in Doha where he suffered a rare missed cut.

Westwood, whose credentials are undermined by the lack of a major title (he has been "on the podium" in all four but never quite reached the summit), has managed to hold a resurgent Kaymer at bay in the Gulf after the German's runaway win in Abu Dhabi left him with a chance of snatching the top ranking in Qatar.

Kaymer clearly looks destined to be No 1 one day but the US PGA champion's substandard displays in Doha (28th) and Dubai (31st) suggest he will need a few more rehearsals before he is ready to step up from understudy into the leading role.

None of the current crop of players has been groomed more for the No 1 ranking than the American, Mickelson.

His arrival in the region for the first time to compete in Abu Dhabi enabled him to go head-to-head with the top two as Woods did in Dubai.

But Mickelson finished 19 shots and 36 places behind Kaymer.

At the age of 40, Mickelson may now be resigned to reaching the end of his productive career of four major victories and 38 other titles without endorsing his record with a spell, even a brief one, as - officially - the leading member of his profession.

 

wjohnson@thenational.ae

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