January 24, 2012

Healthy Woods looking to build on strong 2011 finish

Tiger Woods begins his 2012 season Thursday in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in the United Arab Emirates and will play the first two rounds with top-ranked Luke Donald and third-ranked Rory McIlroy.

“It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been physically fit,” Woods said Tuesday at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, before playing a practice round with McIlroy. “So I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing and giving it a full season.”

When was the last time he felt this healthy?

“I don’t know, probably eight, 10, 12 years ago,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”

Woods closed 2011 by winning the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., clipping Zach Johnson by one stroke.

“I played really well in my last three events, so I’m really looking forward to this year, and continuing and building on what we did towards the end of last year,” said Woods.

In past years, he has opened his season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he has won six times in 12 starts. However, several factors contributed to the change.

First, Woods has never played in Abu Dhabi and is intent on playing new venues in 2012; second, HSBC has been a key supporter of international initiatives for the Tiger Woods Foundation, helping to expand its programs to youth organizations in Thailand, Korea and China via international grants; and finally, he receives an appearance fee for competing.

“That’s one of the reasons why a lot of the guys play in Europe — they do get paid,” he said. “I think the only tour that doesn’t pay is the U.S. Tour.”

Woods also won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

“Torrey has been a great golf course I have enjoyed playing since junior golf,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, scheduling-wise, it didn’t work out.”

The field this week at HSBC Championship includes 11 of the top 25 players in the world. Other big names are second-ranked Lee Westwood and fourth-ranked Martin Kaymer. Woods is ranked 25th.

While Woods hasn’t played in Abu Dhabi before, he is no stranger to Dubai. He has competed in the Dubai Desert Classic six times, winning twice.

Woods begins first-round play Thursday at 7:40 a.m. local time (10:40 p.m. ET on Wednesday night) and starts his second round at 12:05 p.m. local time (3:05 a.m. ET).