x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Tiger Woods sends out warning ahead of Abu Dhabi arrival

The American has put in more hours of matchplay and it showed in Chevron as the former world No 1's name in the winner's circle in the UAE capital next month is a distinct possibility now.

After many false starts it all came together for Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge, an event he hosts for his foundation.
After many false starts it all came together for Tiger Woods at the Chevron World Challenge, an event he hosts for his foundation.

No one knows what this one means, least of all Tiger Woods.

A win at the Chevron World Challenge does not provide much in the way of bragging rights. But after more than two years and 26 tournaments without a win of any kind, Woods is not about to hand this one back.

"It feels great," he said. "It's kind of hard for me to elaborate beyond that."

Here's why: Woods won't play tournament golf again until the end of January, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. By then, any momentum from the birdie-birdie finish he dropped on Zach Johnson on Sunday will be little more than a fading memory. Ditto for the sometimes sparkling golf Woods has played for nearly a month now, including nine of 11 rounds in the 60s.

But if there is a positive from any of that, it is this: for the first time in a long time, there was a feeling of inevitability about the final putt Woods made on the 18th green at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.

It was only six feet, but it was also straight downhill, the way our expectations for Woods have been going for some time now.

Yet the second after the ball disappeared into the cup, a television camera cut to Johnson flashing his caddie a grin that suggested, "I can't do anything about that" before walking across the green to shake hands.

"In this game, I'm never surprised with the way the guys are able to execute and hit shots," said Johnson, a former Masters champion.

"I think he would be the epitome of that example ... I mean, he's the most experienced and the best player I've ever played with. In every situation, he knows how to execute and win."

Or he did - until that fateful crash-filled, post-Thanksgiving ride down the driveway of his Florida mansion two years ago that cost Woods his marriage, his reputation, a handful of big-money sponsors and his uncanny ability to produce magical shots in the most pressure-packed situations.

That six-footer on Sunday won't be cherished, let alone remembered, the way any of the dozens that locked up major championships will be, and a few of his fellow golfers went so far as to make that same point on Twitter.

Not that Woods needed humbling; not after 18 months as the butt of countless jokes and two-plus years without a win.

"They all feel good, you know. They're not easy," he said. "People don't realise how hard it is to win golf tournaments.

"I've gone on streaks where I've won golf tournaments in a row, but still, each one, I don't think I've taken it for granted. And I know, because of how hard it is."

In case he needed reminding, Rory McIlroy, the world No 2, won the Hong Kong Open and No 3 Lee Westwood won the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa the same day. But the funny thing is that the Chevron, which Woods hosts to benefit his foundation, actually had more players ranked in the top 25 than either: 11 total, compared to just three in Hong Kong and six in South Africa.

And a few of those golfers saw enough to suggest that after so many false starts, Woods may actually be - as he never tires of saying - putting it all together.

"I figured someday he'd let all this stuff get past and rededicate himself," said Steve Stricker.

"When somebody goes in the tank, you need to have that work ethic to get yourself off the bottom. We all know he works extremely hard when he wants to. He's finally getting his mind clear and wants to work at it a lot."

Though no one discussed it, and few people were in a position to actually know, there was plenty to suggest that the distractions of his divorce and a string of injuries left Woods little time to work on his game.

He left Hank Haney, his swing coach, for Sean Foley, cut Steve Williams, his long-time caddie, and hired Joe LaCava, but the biggest change over the winless streak was how little Woods actually played.

Beginning with the Fry's Open last month, then on through some exhibitions, the Australian Open, Presidents Cup and now the Chevron, Woods has hit more golf balls than at any time in the past year. All of a sudden, the players Woods will be facing again come the start of next season won't be surprised to find him in the winner's circle again.

"I don't know if he'll ever get to where he was before, because he was so dominant. Sure, he'll have good stretches again and play some tremendous stretches again," Stricker said.

"I don't know if we'll ever see that again from anybody. I'm sure he thinks he can get back there. I wouldn't doubt if he did."

* Associated Press

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