Only time will tell: Tiger

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DUBAI – Tiger Woods believes he is on the right track to end his 15-month winless streak but says he needs more time before he can declare himself back to his best. Preparing to tee off in the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday, the 14-time major champion Woods last hoisted aloft a trophy at the Australian Masters in November 2009.
Shortly after that his life was thrown into turmoil by a sex scandal that wrecked his marriage, shattered his image and saw his golf game suffer as a consequence A poor start to the year at Torrey Pines, California last month saw Woods arrive in the Gulf still looking for solid confirmation that the radical swing changes he has been working on with coach Sean Foley are bearing fruit. But he insisted there was no going back for him. “Certainly it was frustrating that I didn’t perform the way I know I could,” he said.
“But I’ve been here before. It takes time. I went through a two-year period where I didn’t do anything and I went through a year-and-a-half period where I didn’t do anything. 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. It takes time. “It was good to have those problems (at Torrey Pines) kind of show themselves under a tournament atmosphere and it was very good to identify and fix it.”
Dubai holds happy memories for Woods. He first played here in 2001, losing narrowly down the stretch to Thomas Bjorn, but recorded outstanding wins in 2006 and 2008 and is a whopping 82 under par for the 20 rounds he has played over the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club. He opted not to play in 2009 and last year he was mired in his marriage crisis meaning that he will be playing in the Gulf region for the first time in two years.
That fits his stated intention of playing as much as he can on the international stage. “I think the schedule will be about the same (for this year). Still playing globally,” he said. “Obviously spending the majority of my time in the States and playing our tour, supporting our tour. “But I’ll still be playing a global schedule.”
Woods has been paired for the first two rounds with the two players who have moved ahead of him in the world rankings – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer – a scenario he says suits him fine. “I think it’s fun,” he said. “The last time I played in a pairing like this was the US Open in 2008 (with Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott), the top three guys and we had a lot of fun. I think tomorrow will be the same.” Golf titans clash in Dubai: The battle for world golf supremacy will be contested at the Dubai Desert Classic this week with the top three in the rankings – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods – in the same group for the first two rounds.
It is a rare sight to see the planet’s leading trio playing together competitively and it will make for compelling viewing on Thursday and Friday. Top draw Woods cannot regain his world number one spot from Lee Westwood, who ended his 281-week long reign on October 31, although a win could put him back above Kaymer into second spot. The young German prodigy, who won his first Major at the USPGA last August, harbours hopes of emulating Bernhard Langer as a German world number one if he wins and Westwood finishes lower than second.
Similarly if Kaymer is second alone and Westwood is outside the top 10, the German will take top spot. Early season form favours Kaymer, who moved ahead of Woods with his runaway win in Abu Dhabi last month. Woods said that getting back into the winner’s circle was his priority, not regaining his number one spot. “Winning takes care of all that,” he said.
“That’s how I got to number one in the world. That’s how I was able to sustain it, is to win golf tournaments. So the goal is still the same, it’s to go out there and win.” Both Westwood and Kaymer said they expected the old Woods to resurface at any moment. There will be plenty of opposition for the top trio to contemplate in Dubai which has attracted a world class field for the climax of the European PGA Tour’s four-week detour to the Gulf.
Last year’s Desert Classic winner, Spanish veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez, who beat Westwood in a playoff on that occasion, and the player he succeeded, young Ulsterman Rory McIlroy, will be among the favourites. And close attention will be paid to Thomas Bjorn who bounded back to form with a big win in Qatar last week. The Dane enjoyed the best win of his career here in 2001 when he played all four rounds in the company of Woods, then at the top of his game, and came out on top.
The Asian challenge will be spearheaded by Asian Tour number one, Noh Seung-Yul of S Korea, with Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee and India’s Jeev Milkha Singh good outside bets.