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The Loop

Woods set to start 2012 season in Abu Dhabi

January 24, 2012

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The questions were pretty much the same as usual and so, predictably, were the responses from the world's No. 25-ranked player. So it is that, in no particular order, we can unoriginally and non-exclusively reveal the unsurprising news that Tiger Woods' playing schedule is indeed influenced by his receipt of appearance fees; that the 14-time major champion is in no mood to comment further on Hank Haney's soon-to-be released book; that he prefers baseball to cricket; that he played jolly well in Australia at the back end of last year; that Luke Donald is the top-ranked golfer on the planet; and that playing under pressure these days is just the same as it ever was.

Woods' choice of tournaments -- both at home and abroad -- has forever been the subject of some moaning and groaning from a variety of folks, of course. "Not enough regular events at home," say some. "Too much 'showing up' money," complain others. And "too many weeks off," is the beef attributed to those simply anxious to see Woods in action more often.

That last bit may change, however, especially if Woods wants to maintain his income level. Strong rumor has it that the cost of bringing him here to the capital of the United Arab Emirates was a mere $1.5m. In other words, half of what he was commanding pre-scandal.


Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

"It used to be that you had to have Tiger if you wanted to create a really big event," says one European Tour insider. "But now, while it is still great to have him here, with the field they have assembled (six of the top ten and 16 of the top 50 are here) he isn't absolutely necessary."

Still, although it took a little while for the man from the (London) Sun to raise the subject, top of most tabloid journalist's agenda going into Tiger's first-ever press conference in Abu Dhabi was "The Big Miss," Haney's upcoming expose of (supposedly) all things Woodsian. Tiger was ready though.

"It's something I have to deal with," he said. "I get asked at press conferences what these guys (Haney and co-writer Jaime Diaz and -- previously -- former caddie Steve Williams) have done. And that's just part of it.

"Am I disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Certainly, because I have to answer the questions. It's been a while since I haven't had to answer those questions. So I've answered them and I guess I'll have to continue doing it."

Sadly too, for those who believe in freedom of speech and the right of any journalist to ask a tough question, the media man from the European Tour on the podium with Woods seemed to feel it was his duty to protect the former No. 1 from the nasty ink-stained wretches. "Do we have one more question on golf" was his sarcastic reaction to a perfectly reasonable query as to what was so wrong about Haney writing his book.

Where Woods was a little more forthcoming was in his continuing love for the game he dominated for so long.

"I've played other sports," he said. "I've played baseball and ran track and cross-country. I like doing all three but I didn't love any of them. I love golf and I love what it takes to prepare and be successful at it. I have so many great memories of the times I had with my Dad. Late in the evenings we would get out there and practice together."

Asked to comment on Donald's recent contention that the man immediately below him on the ranking list, Rory McIlroy, is the most talented player he had ever seen, Woods took the high road.

"The most talented player I've ever seen in person, was Seve (Ballesteros)," he said. "I've never seen anyone else be able to do the things he could with the golf ball. It was impressive."

The tabloid lads weren't finished though. But Woods was again quick to squash potential controversy when asked who is currently the best player in the world.

"I think Luke is ranked No. 1 isn't he," was the sniffy and dismissive response.

While that fact is undoubtedly undeniable, many are those who feel that, until someone -- anyone -- has consistently beaten a fully fit and focused Tiger over a period of at least a few months, then Woods remains the true number one in all but name. And that process starts here in Abu Dhabi this week. Over the opening 36 holes, the trio of Woods, Donald and McIlroy will play together.

Remarkable. It never ceases to amaze what the European Tour's computer can come up with.

-- John Huggan