Woods struggles in opening round in Dubai
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – One round cannot define the future of world golf. However, if anyone was looking for a hint as to where future power lies in the global game, then the opening round of the $2.5 million Dubai Desert Classic provided it.
Only a brilliant 254-yard 3-wood to the 18th green saved Tiger Woods from looking average in comparison to Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Woods now plays World No. 3 to Westwood’s No. 1 and Kaymer’s No. 2. Based on the evidence of the opening round here in the desert, the official world golf ranking has it pretty much spot on.
In a dream three-ball, the scores of the world’s top three players read: Westwood and Kaymer 69, Woods 71. The gap would have been wider if not for that flash of former genius from Woods at the 18th.
Dubai Desert Classic
Images from the Dubai Desert Classic, played Feb. 10-13 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Woods’ ball came to rest 5 feet from the finishing hole. He holed the eagle putt to salvage what was really a poor round of golf. It allowed him to end the day just six shots behind first-round leader Rory McIlroy, the 2009 champion.
“It was scratchy,” Woods said about his performance. “I started out putting awful. Then I didn’t really miss a putt after that if I gave myself a reasonable distance. I struggled with trajectory control today. I wasn’t hitting the ball on the right trajectory. When you get wind like this you have to hit the ball on the perfect trajectory and I didn’t do that.”
Woods played second string to Westwood and Kaymer all day. While they were plotting their way carefully around the Emirates Course, Woods looked like a lost soul. Westwood only dropped one shot, a bogey at the 18th when he hit a fat wedge third and failed to get up-and-down. Kaymer made a bogey at the 15th when he hit a poor chip from the back of the green. He also made an unlucky double bogey at No. 9 when his approach shot hit the grandstands and rebounded into the pond beside the green.
While the European pair walked Emirates Golf Club with the air of two mates out for a casual round, Tiger looked like he was struggling with swing change demons.
A blocked tee shot right at the par-4 eighth brought two quiet F-bombs. “Damn it” followed at the par-5 10th hole, after hitting his 3-wood approach shot right of the green. Another F-bomb came at the 12th after a double bogey. Woods found a fairway bunker off the tee and could only blast back to the fairway. He was long through the green with his third and then failed to get up-and-down. “F---ing idiot!” he said as he walked off the green.
Maybe the most telling sign that the future of golf might be European, probably German, came at the short, par-4 17th. Both Woods and Westwood laid up with fairway woods, while Kaymer pulled driver and landed the ball on the green, the sort of thing Woods used to do when he had confidence in his swing. Woods then proved with his third shot that he has a lot of work left to do on his swing. The former World No. 1 had only 76 yards to the pin but pulled his wedge approach shot a full 50 feet long, to the back of the green. His divot was so deep you could have hid a small rabbit in it.
“That was awful,” Woods said. “Awful.”
It was the sort of shot an 18-handicapper would be embarrassed to hit, not the former World No. 1.
And yet he can still conjure up the sort of magic he produced at the 18th. He’s going to need a lot more of that magic if he wants to compete with Kaymer and Westwood over the next few years.
The sooner Sean Foley’s swing changes kick into place, the better. Otherwise, Woods could get left in Kaymer or Westwood’s dust.