January 06, 2012

Tiger enjoys Fiesta Bowl, looks forward to 2012

Tiger Woods rang in the new year by celebrating his 36th birthday and serving as an honorary captain for his alma mater, Stanford, in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. Although the fourth-ranked Cardinal lost in overtime to No. 3 Oklahoma State, 41-38, Woods had a great experience.

Prior to the game, he addressed the Stanford players and coaching staff at the team hotel and ate with them at the pregame meal. He also attended team meetings and rode the team bus to the stadium, conversing with head coach David Shaw.

In addition to participating in the pregame coin toss, Woods spent the entire game on the Stanford sideline, often conversing with and offering encouragement to Cardinal players.

“It was an honor to represent Stanford and the team,” Woods said. “I had a terrific time and am very grateful to Coach Shaw for inviting me. I still can’t get over how big some of the players are.”

Woods attended Stanford University for two years before turning professional in 1996.

“I would like to finish off my degree — I might just do it one of these days,” he said. “I would be proud, too, because earning a Stanford degree is pretty special.”

Woods, who closed 2011 with a victory in the Chevron World Challenge, kicks off his 2012 season Jan. 26 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, his first visit to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The stellar field includes top-ranked players Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and defending champion Martin Kaymer.

“I have been looking to include the tournament in my schedule,” said Woods. “I have been told to expect a challenging course in great condition at the National with greens as good as any we’ll see all year. I have enjoyed all the HSBC events I have played in, and I am sure this one will be no different. HSBC has been a big supporter of my Foundation, and I’m grateful for that. Plus, I am really looking forward to visiting a new place.”

Woods hopes his late-season momentum from last year will carry over to 2012.

“I am looking to get off to a fast start and keep building from there,” he said. “Now that I am healthy, I feel I can keep building my game and confidence each week, much like I did at the end of last year — from the Australian Open to The Presidents Cup to, finally, a win in California.”

Woods wasn’t surprised by his victory and said it was a product of good health and extra practice time.

“It is nice to finally get a ‘W’ again,” he said. “It was a great confidence boost and the perfect way to end the season and head into Christmas break. It is a culmination of all the hard work I have been able to put in off the course now that I am healthy again.”

Woods birdied the last two holes at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to catch and overtake Zach Johnson.

“It felt great to be able to hold off a top player like Zach all the way to the wire with my health and game well enough to stand the pressure of the situation,” he said. “I really enjoyed Sunday afternoon and being in contention again and believe I am pretty close to delivering my best, week in and week out.”

Woods, now ranked 23rd in the world, admits golf’s younger players have stepped up.

“It is exciting for golf fans, and I relish the challenge of going head-to-head with any number of the leading players on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. “Rory and Luke are both very talented golfers, and I admire what they have achieved in the last year.”

That said, Woods isn’t conceding anything.

“The young guys coming through are practicing harder than ever before and raising the bar,” said Woods. “I think the level of consistency I had a few years ago would see me climb back up the rankings pretty quickly, but I do think there are some pretty phenomenal golfers out there that I really respect.”

Woods is especially grateful to his fans around the world for who have supported him since he turned professional.

“I have been humbled by their fantastic support,” he said. “Hopefully, I will reward them by posting some wins in 2012.”

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