Tiger Woods might not have needed to ask for an alarm call for his early start in today’s first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. Not, at least, if he had another rude awakening from back home in Florida. “My mom called me about two in the morning last night and woke me up, and asked me how I was doing,” revealed Woods at his pre-event press conference at the Emirates Golf Club. “I said, ‘Mom, you realise there’s a nine-hour time difference?’”
Kultida Woods’ forgetfulness has left the two-time winner feeling “tired” heading into the latest event after his long-awaited comeback towards the end of last year.
Missing the cut in last week’s PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, wasn’t part of his plan, which is geared towards him being back firing on all cylinders again in time for the season’s first major, the Masters in early April. Woods is back in the United Arab Emirates for the first time since 2014, though, for one reason only.
“My goal is to win,” declared the 14-time major winner at a press conference that, admittedly, was held in one of the smallest interview rooms on the European Tour but, nonetheless, had standing room only long before Woods had even taken his seat.
Woods said regardless of the success or failure he’d had at winning tournaments over his career his goal was always to win, “and that doesn’t change. Whether I’m injured, coming off an injury or I’m playing well, or I’m playing poorly, if I’m in the event, it’s to win the event.”
A fair chunk of his pre-tournament chat was about tennis and, by the sound of things, he’s on first-name terms with the current British No 1. “Now Andy [Murray] is playing well,” he said of the Scot. It was last weekend’s finals of the Australian Open, where Roger Federer beat Rafa Nadal in the men’s event and Serena Williams beat sister Venus to claim the women’s crown, that created a real sparkle in Woods’ eyes, though.
“It’s pretty remarkable that all of them got to that point: Rog being out injured, Rafa dealing with injuries; Serena, same thing; and then Venus with her autoimmune disease,” he said. Federer has now won 18 grand slam titles, matching the feat of Jack Nicklaus in golf. “No-one wins slams at his age,” he added of the 35-year-old Swiss player. “But, as you get older, you change your game and you do things slightly differently, and he did that.”
Can Woods do likewise? “Well, I’m not going to be hitting balls like some of these guys 340 out there. So you do it differently. If you look at the list of guys who have shot below 60, you realise Jim Furyk’s on there twice. He averages 270 off the tee, yet shot two rounds under 60. So it can be done different ways.”
On the range here, Woods has even had some fellow players coming up and ask for his autograph. That’s an indication of the impact he continues to have on the game, even though his last major win was nearly a decade ago. That early exit in California last week was certainly a blow, but he remains as optimistic as ever. “There have been ten years where I won five or more tournaments, but there have also been years where I didn’t win a thing, and I struggled. When I was changing my game, for instance, I did not play well,” he said.
“But Jason Day (one of his playing partners in the Farmers Insurance Open) said something pretty funny. We were walking in the scoring tent on Friday, and he says, “You know, it doesn’t really matter when you win your four tournaments, whether it’s the beginning of the year or the end of the year. I know we (Woods, Day and the third member of the group, US Open champion Dustin Johnson) all missed the cut last week, but you win four at the end of the year, people think you’ve had a hell of a year. I just like to put myself in contention as many times as I possibly can to get those W’s, and this is a good week to start off doing that.
“One of the reasons why I’m playing four out of five events at the moment is to get more competitive rounds so that come the first full week in April, I’ll have more rounds under my belt and know what it feels like to be ready.”