Top players keen to tame the Tiger

Nevermind racing to Dubai, the world of golf would not mind fast forwarding to next month in Abu Dhabi, where the man who used to be king will come face to face with those who have prospered during his two-year decline.

Tiger Woods is back in the winner’s enclosure and do not think that players such as Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood have not taken note. The Northern Irishman and the Englishman matched the American’s victory in California on Sunday with impressive victories of their own, in Hong Kong and South Africa. A successful, and lucrative, weekend for all three makes for an enticing prospect — for us and for them.

“Usually December is the month in the golfing calendar when nothing’s happening so it was great to see Tiger back,” said McIlroy. “Even the way he won was very impressive, with back-to-back birdies on the last two holes. I think you could see by his reaction how much it meant to him. If I was to come up against Tiger on a Sunday, it would be something to look forward to. Not many players of my generation have experienced it yet and it would be great to have the opportunity to do it. It looks like next year really could be something with lots of players playing well. I’m just happy to be involved in it.”

Also happy to be involved is Westwood, who won the Nedbank Challenge after taking a seven-shot lead into Sunday’s 18 holes courtesy of a third-round 62 — an effort he described as “about as good as I have ever played”. The Englishman is one of life’s great stoics, so to hear him deliver such a paean of self-praise suggests he is in the right frame of mind to accept a challenge from McIlroy, Woods or anyone else.

“If I can take this kind of form into next year then obviously I’m excited. With Tiger getting back into the winner’s enclosure, that’s great for golf. I think everyone wants to see the best players in the world play well and Tiger, who has been that kind of player, might well get back there,” he said.

The only disappointment is that Woods, Westwood and McIlroy will have to wait until next month’s Abu Dhabi Championship to measure themselves against each other. Throw in Luke Donald, the world No 1, and Martin Kaymer, world No 4 and twice a winner around the Abu Dhabi course, and it adds up to one of the most keenly awaited tournaments in recent memory.

In the meantime, there is this week’s Dubai World Championship, the finale to the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

A few years ago Westwood and McIlroy arrived here neck and neck in the season-long race, with the Englishman eventually prevailing. McIlroy is involved again, although this time his opponent is Donald, and his chances of finishing in front rank somewhere between not great and none. The Northern Irishman needs a victory on Sunday and the Englishman needs to finish no higher than 10th place.

Were his opponent anyone other than Donald, McIlroy might have a decent chance but the Englishman has become a byword for consistency in recent times, finishing outside the top 10 about as often as he throws a temper tantrum. “It’ll be tough,” McIlroy conceded. “But if it was to happen, it would be a great achievement, a great way to finish my most successful year to date.” —

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