As he continues his return from injury, Tiger Woods will be looking to bounce back from a missed cut in the USA when he tees off in Dubai this week, writes Michael Stoneman
If Tiger Woods had one eye on events at the Australian Open last week, then he surely must have taken inspiration from what his old friend Roger Federer achieved in Melbourne.
Woods and Federer became friends in the 2000s through shared sponsorship deals and a mutual understanding of what it’s like to be a dominant force in your sport, having each spent record periods at the peak of the world rankings.
Fast forward to 2017, and it seems they still have plenty in common. Thirty-five-year-old Federer defied age and logic to claim his 18th Grand Slam title in Australia, five years after his last major victory and in his first tournament back following six months out with a knee injury.
Woods, meanwhile, is just setting off on his own comeback trail. Last week in San Diego, the 41-year-old made his first PGA Tour appearance in 17 months following two back surgeries and will be hoping to end his own nine-year Major drought when he tees off in the US Masters at Augusta in April.
More immediately, he will compete in the Dubai Desert Classic, where a third victory in the ‘Major of the Middle East’ would catch the sporting world’s imagination almost as much as Federer’s five-set victory over Rafael Nadal in Melbourne, especially after Woods missed the cut in last week’s tournament at Torrey Pines.
While simply making it to the weekend in Dubai would be considered good progress for the 14-time Major champion, Woods – as always – has set much higher standards for himself.
“Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to win this golf tournament on the weekend,” he said after missing the cut in California. “But I have next week."
And it’s safe to say that Woods isn’t the only person looking forward to his first tournament in Dubai since 2014, with organisers reporting a strong boost in ticket sales once his appearance was announced.
"With so many big names in the field, we expect a great turn out of fans on all tournament days,” said Mohamed Buamaim, Vice Chairman and CEO of golf in Dubai.
"We are naturally delighted and proud that Tiger Woods is joining us for the 2017 Omega Dubai Desert Classic and, like every one, I also look forward to seeing his trademark fist-pumps.”
Woods has good reason to be optimistic about his chances of showing off his fist-pumps at the Emirates Golf Club, having won in 2006 and 2008, and also finishing second, tied third and tied fifth in previous appearances. In total, he is an incredible 92 under par for the 28 rounds he has played at the Majlis course since making his debut in 2001.
“I've always enjoyed playing in Dubai and it’s fantastic to see how the city has grown phenomenally from when I first started playing there,” said Woods. “It was great winning in Dubai in 2006 and 2008. When you win in Dubai, you know you’ve beaten an outstanding field. The support from the fans is also just wonderful.”
This week, those fans will no doubt be cheering Woods on as he tries to equal Ernie Els’ long-standing record of three victories at the Emirates Golf Club. He will then resume his ever-more-difficult bid to beat Jack Nicklaus’ overall Major record of 18 – the same number of Grand Slams now won by his close friend Federer.
Woods’s two previous Dubai Desert Classic victories both led to Major titles in that same season, and if history repeats itself in 2017 then his comeback trail could prove to be an even more entertaining journey that Federer’s.