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Woods convinced O'Meara to play in Dubai

Mark O’Meara has revealed that he finally agreed to play in the Dubai Desert Classic starting tomorrow only after speaking with Tiger Woods.

World number one Woods withdrew from the event on Sunday, saying that he felt it “prudent” to stay on American soil for the time being because of possible war with Iraq.

Close friend O’Meara said: “I talked to Tiger the other day and I understood his positioning on what’s going on.

“I think he feels from his standpoint – not just because he’s a golfer, but because he’s such a highly visible figure in the world – that it would be better if he is staying in America at this point in time.

“And I respect his judgement. At first I told him ‘look, if you don’t go maybe I shouldn’t, to make it look right’.

“But he told me ‘you know Mark, if you want to go to Dubai please go. I want you to go. Just right now I want to go as well, but I think it will be in my best interest if I wait till next year’.

“I know it’s a very bad situation. It’s not something that I think anybody wants, but I want to show people that Dubai’s a great place to be and that it is very safe.

“It’s great to be back. This is my fifth year and I’m really looking forward to it. Coming to play in the Dubai Desert Classic has always been fun, so I welcomed the opportunity when I was invited and to be quite honest, I’m really glad to be here.”

O’Meara would have flown to the Middle East on Woods’ private jet, but had to make other arrangements once he knew that his near neighbour at Isleworth in Florida had decided to stay away.

Woods, runner-up to Thomas Bjorn on his one appearance two years ago and offered in excess of two million dollars to return according to reports, has already committed to next year’s event.

Colin Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Mark James, Paul Caseyand Adam Scott are other absentees, but the field includes world number two and defending champion Ernie Els, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.

Els, a four-time winner already this season, and Clarke combined to win a nine-hole challenge match yesterday.

Harrington and Bjorn tied for second with O’Meara and Japan’s Shingo Katayama.

O’Meara’s last individual victory was the Cisco World Match Play at Wentworth in 1998. He beat Woods in the final to put the icing on a season in which he also captured the Masters and Open titles.

The 46-year-old has finished 112th, 116th and 97th on the US Tour money list the last three years, but says: “I can still hit the ball very well and if I can make a few putts you never know what might happen. The old man might surprise them!”


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