This week’s Omega $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic might just define how the former world No. 1 is going to play the rest of the year.
Woods’ place in world golf is obvious when you arrive at the Emirates Course. A huge poster of Woods sits on the left hand side of the driveway. Underneath read the words “World Number 3.”
Woods’ inclusion in a three-ball with world number one Lee Westwood and World No. 2 Martin Kaymer over the first two days heaps a lot of pressure on the increasingly fragile shoulders of the 14-major winner.
His performance will be measured against the two pretenders to his throne.
Tiger Woods lines up a putt on Saturday, June 1, 1996, during the final round of the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn. Woods went on to win the individual title. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
This Nov. 10, 2010, file photo shows Tiger Woods at a news conference after his round at the Australian Masters Pro-Am event at Victoria Golf Club in Melbourne, Australia. Woods believes he finally is ready to move on after a self-destructive year that cost him his marriage, his mystique, millions in endorsements and, lastly, his No. 1 ranking. What remains are relationships to repair, along with his golf game.
Tiger Woods shakes hands with Jack Nicklaus after receiving the Jack Nicklaus College Player of the Year award in ceremonies at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio, Sunday, June 2, 1996.
Tiger Woods holds his trophy aloft after winning the Las Vegas Invitational in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was the first win of his pro career.
Masters champion Tiger Woods holds a replica of the Masters Trophy after winning the tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 13, 1997.
Tiger Woods celebrates as he wins the 1997 Masters with a record-breaking 18-under-par performance at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 13, 1997. (AP Photo/Curtis Compton)
Tiger Woods celebrates after winning the 100th U.S. Open Golf Championship at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif., Sunday, June 18, 2000. Finishing at 12 under par, Woods topped second-place Ernie Els by a remarkable 15 shots.
Tiger Woods waves to fans after he won the 81st PGA Championship at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill., on Sunday, Aug. 15, 1999. Woods shot an 11-under 277, beating Sergio Garcia, of Spain, by one stroke. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser)
Tiger Woods, right, of the United States, holds the trophy as he makes his winner’s speech outside the clubhouse at the end of the final day of the British Open Golf championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Sunday, July 23, 2000. At center is South Africa’s Ernie Els and at left Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn the joint second-place finishers. (AP Photo/Adam Butler)
In this Aug. 20, 2000 photo, Tiger Woods points to his ball as it drops for birdie on the first hole of a three-hole playoff against Bob May at the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)
Tiger Woods reacts on the 18th hole after winning the 2001 Masters by two strokes over David Duval at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga. The win was Woods’ fourth straight major title, completing what many would call the “Tiger Slam.”
Tiger Woods, left, receives the 2002 Masters Green Jacket from Augusta National Golf Club chairman William W. “Hootie” Johnson. The win was Woods’ third Masters title and second in a row.
Tiger Woods gestures as he watches his shot to the 13th hole Sunday, June 16, 2002 at the U.S. Open Golf Championship at the Black Course of Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. Woods went on to win by three shots over Phil Mickelson.
Tiger Woods, center, sits with his fiancee Elin Nordegren, left, and his friend Jerry Chang, right, during Stanford’s basketball game against Arizona in this Feb. 7, 2004.
Tiger Woods reacts to winning the 2005 Masters in a playoff with Chris DiMarco on the 18th hole during final-round play at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
Tiger Woods speaks at a press conference with the trophy after winning the 2005 British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Tiger Woods, right, reacts as he walks off the 18th green with his caddie Steve Williams after winning the British Open Golf Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Course in Hoylake, England Sunday July 23, 2006. The win was Woods’ first major title since the death of his father, Earl.
Tiger Woods holds up the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 89th PGA Golf Championship at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., Sunday, Aug. 12, 2007. The win was Tiger’s 13th major title.
Tiger Woods holds his left knee after teeing off on the second hole during the fourth round of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Woods had reconstructive surgery on his left knee Tuesday, June 24, 2008, in Utah to repair a torn ligament. Woods went on to win in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.
Tiger Woods reacts after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th green, forcing a playoff against Rocco Mediate during the final round of the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Phil Mickelson, left, winner of the Tour Championship and Tiger Woods, right, winner of the Fed Ex Cup, pose at East Lake Country Club.
Tiger Woods during his statement at the Sawgrass Players Club, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Media outlets, such as CNN with reporter Susan Candiotti (far right), conduct live shows outside the Sawgrass Marriott in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., prior to Tiger Woods’ statement.
Tiger Woods answered questions in a press conference Monday for the first time since his Thanksgiving night accident that led to revelations of multiple extramarital affairs.
Tiger Woods during the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. On a Firestone Country Club course that he has dominated in the past, Woods posted his highest 72-hole score as a professional, including a closing 77 that left him in a tie for 78th place in the 79-man field.
Caddie Steve Williams holds a club as Tiger Woods hits on the driving range during a practice round for the PGA Championship.
Tiger Woods and swing coach Sean Foley watch Tiger’s swing video at the 2010 BMW Championship on Sept. 8, 2010.
Tiger Woods chats with the media after shooting 65 in the first round of The Barclays.
Tiger Woods doffs his cap after holing out for eagle on the 12th hole during Ryder Cup singles. In arguably his most dominant round of 2010, Woods claimed a 4-and-3 win over Francesco Molinari.
Tiger Woods of the U.S. and Steve Williams, caddie to Adam Scott, shake hands on the first tee during the Day 1 Foursome matches at the 2011 Presidents Cup
Tiger Woods of the U.S. celebrates with fans after the U.S. team defeated the International team on the final day of the Presidents Cup.
Tiger Woods celebrates after his birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the Chevron World Challenge.
Tiger Woods drops on No. 15 at Augusta National during the second round of the 2013 Masters. A day later, he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for an improper drop.
Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 24 at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Orlando, Fla. Earnings: $1,116,000
Tiger Woods after his seven-shot win in the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
Tiger Woods (center right) and Rory McIlroy (centre left) walk side by side during their exhibition at Mission Hills.
Tiger Woods’ injury suffered on this swing Sunday has his PGA Championship and Ryder Cup status up in the air..
Tiger Woods flashes a smile on Sunday during the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth Country Club in Windermere, FL.
All three players have done their best to play down the obvious battle for supremacy that will be staged over the first two days. Especially Woods.
“It’s still the same,” Woods said about being world number three. “It’s to win a golf tournament. Winning takes care of all that (the world rankings). That’s how I got to No. 1 in the world. That’s how I was able to sustain it, to win golf tournaments. That’s what Lee did to get to No. 1.
“You have to play well. You’ve got to be consistent, but you also have to win. So the goal is still the same. It’s to go out there and win.
“I’ve been out here long enough to know that it’s all about sustainability. The guys who have been No. 1 when I’ve been out here, how they got there, they won golf tournaments.”
Woods would normally arrive in the Middle East as a pretty good bet to win the tournament. In five previous visits he has never finished outside the top 5, with victories in 2006 and 2008, his last visit to Dubai.
However, many thought he would win at Torrey Pines (in the Farmers Insurance Open) in his first start this year, another course he has practically owned in the past. Yet Woods battled his new Sean Foley swing for four days and came away with a 44th place finish.
“It was frustrating that I didn’t perform the way I know I could. I’ve been here before. It takes time to make these changes. You don’t make changes and just start winning a bunch of golf tournaments. It doesn’t work that way.”
If the evidence from the range the first couple of days is anything to go by, then Woods might struggle with his driver this week. It certainly hasn’t been working well in practice.
Westwood and Kaymer both want to see Tiger Woods back at his best for the good of the game. So does Rory McIlroy, winner here two years ago. The young Northern Irishman might have delivered the most insightful comment on Woods when he said:
“I’m not sure we’re going to see him dominate the way he did back in the early 2000s.”
He might not even dominate this week.
It might be winter here in the desert, but the heat is definitely on Tiger. This week could just determine his entire year.