Tiger Woods seeks to maintain winning streak
Tiger Woods isn't slowly easing into the 2008 season. He's playing back-to-back tournaments -- and flying halfway around the world to do it.
After a commanding win in California, Woods is feeling fresh and hoping for a fifth straight title in sunny, skyscraper-studded Dubai.
"It's one of those things where I've always played pretty well coming off breaks, and you feel fresh and my practice sessions were pretty good," Woods said at palm tree-lined Emirates Golf Club, where the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic gets under way Thursday.
"Coming over here after playing well last week, (I'm) really looking forward to teeing it up this week and giving it a go."
Woods' dominant eight-stroke win Sunday at the Buick Invitational was his fourth straight and 62nd career title, tying Arnold Palmer for fourth on the PGA Tour list. If he triumphs in Dubai, it will be his seventh win in eight starts, including a victory in his own tournament, the Target World Challenge in December.
After working on his swing for months and taking a 10-week break following the Tour Championship and another five weeks off after the Target World Challenge, Woods has high hopes for this season. Earlier this month, he declared that winning the Grand Slam in a calendar year is "easily within reason."
On Wednesday, Woods again said if he controls his own play and peaks at the right times this year, the four majors are in reach.
"It's about playing well at the right times," he said. "It's about getting lucky, actually. You have to have everything go your way."
But Woods also attributed his winning streak to years of tinkering with his game.
"One of the reasons why I made the changes that I made is to get to this point," he said. "And the great thing is, we have a long way to go."
Unlike the Buick Invitational, which Woods has won four years in a row, the Dubai Desert Classic has not always gone his way.
He is 1-for-4 here -- and his win in 2006 didn't come easily. Woods had to go birdie-birdie over the final two holes to get into a playoff with three-time champion Ernie Els, whom he defeated on the first extra hole.
Last year, poor putting troubled Woods, who finished third behind the South African and winner Henrik Stenson.
Along with Els and Stenson, Woods will face some of the European Tour's other top players, including money leader Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie, another former Dubai Desert Classic winner (1996) who will go head-to-head with Woods in the first two rounds.
Stenson, who is coming off of two second-place European Tour finishes in Qatar and Abu Dhabi, said it's possible to beat Woods -- by focusing on a good score, not the world's top player.
"You have to believe it," Stenson said. "I've done it once, so I've sort of proven it myself that I've won a tournament where he played at least."
The Emirates Golf Club is a lush green oasis in the middle of Dubai, a booming desert city in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates. The club is surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers, towering construction cranes and traffic-clogged highways -- but its jewel is the 7,211-yard, par-72 Majlis Course.
The weather is almost always warm and sunny on the tip of the Arabian peninsula, and Wednesday was no different.
Woods said the greens were a bit slower than in the past due to recent spate of rain, and the rough was up a touch.
"But all in all, the golf course is ... in perfect shape, and it is year-in and year-out," he said.
Playing golf won't be the only thing on Woods' agenda in Dubai. In late 2006, Woods announced he was designing his first golf course here.
Called Al Ruwaya, which means serenity in Arabic, the course will be built in Dubailand, the region's largest tourism and leisure project, and will feature a 7,700-yard, par-72 course, golf academy, 320 villas and an 80-suite boutique hotel. It is expected to be completed next year.
Woods plans to visit the site during his stay. So far, the first two holes have been shaped.
"It's been eye-opening, the detail that goes into it. I didn't really realize that, but I've also loved it, too," Woods said. "I absolutely spend hours ... just looking at plans and thinking and creating."
Dubai and the United Arab Emirates are trying to establish themselves as a premier location for sports like golf and tennis, and other players have announced plans for courses in this city. Els launched his $18 million, 7,538-yard links-style course in Dubai Sports City on Monday. It will open to the public in March.
Dubai also plans to host the world's richest golf tournament beginning next year with a prize fund of $10 million. The European Tour's Dubai World Championship, to be held at another luxury club -- the Jumeirah Golf Estates -- also will include an annual $10 million bonus pool.
January 31, 2008