Even faves desert Woods

Courses he has dominated not nearly as friendly

February 10, 2011|By Jeff Shain

It was a small victory, sure, but you have to start somewhere.

Tiger Woods and "big brother" Mark O'Meara reunited to capture the Dubai Desert Classic's Challenge Match — a par-3 undercard to this week's European Tour stop that never lacks for the game's brightest jewels.

Whether that translates to flashier headlines remains to be seen.

If there's a place on the golf map where Woods has enjoyed a comfort zone, it's the Emirates Golf Club. In five trips to the desert haven, he has won twice and never finished outside the top five.

Then again, that's what folks said two weeks ago about Torrey Pines — a venue that hadn't seen Woods finish anywhere other than first in his previous five visits, capped by that epic 2008 U.S. Open playoff.

Ditto for Firestone Country Club, where seven victories in his first 10 visits ought to qualify Woods to have that World Golf Championships trophy named for him.

We know by now how those turned out. A 74-75 weekend left Woods tied for 44th at Torrey Pines — 34 spots below his previous worst finish at that stop. His visit to Firestone in August found him next-to-last, 30 shots behind winner Hunter Mahan.

Frankly, Woods is running out of comfort zones. Dubai and Doral are the only remaining venues on his usual rotation where he never has finished outside the top 10.

"I still feel I can win golf tournaments," Woods told reporters in Dubai. "I'm not that old. I figure I have some years ahead of me. I certainly have lost a lot more tournaments than I have won. But it's the goal every week you tee up, and that doesn't change."

Fans will recall Woods went through a similar dry spell in late 2003 and all of 2004, when the WGC Match Play was his only trophy while Hank Haney tweaked his swing. The difference, though, is he notched more than a dozen top-10s along the way.

European Tour officials aren't necessarily making things any easier this week. Woods has been paired with No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer — a blockbuster group worthy of a red carpet but also an in-your-face reminder of the new hierarchy.

Even so, the mystery falls squarely on No. 3.

"He's the best player in the game," Kaymer said. "At the moment, Lee and me, we are 1 and 2. But in every golfer's mind, he is the best player in the world. And it would be fantastic if he can get back to where he was."

When Woods held off Kaymer's challenge by a shot in his last Dubai visit three years ago, the German was just beginning his ascent into the world's elite.

"It takes time," Woods said of his struggles.

Time isn't his friend right now.

jshain@tribune.com

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