Woods still ahead of the pack

World number one Tiger Woods accepts even he cannot beat Father Time – but insists his game is good enough to keep him ahead of the chasing pack for a while yet.

The American turned 30 in December and is entering what most consider the peak period of a golfer’s career.

Speaking at his third Dubai Desert Classic, one of the few titles he has not won, Woods is confident he can continue to set the standard – provided he works hard.

But he is aware that young guns, such as big-hitting newcomer Bubba Watson, will one day pose questions his body will no longer be able to answer.

He said: “I feel like the pieces I have been working on have certainly fallen more into place – and because of that, and the success I’ve had, it does breed confidence.

“I’m not feeling old yet. I can still move the ball a little bit. But there will come a point in time where I won’t be able to do that any more, and guys will be pounding it by me all the time.

“The game has become bigger. I’m six foot – and if you look at the top five players in the world a bit short, although (Retief) Goosen and I are the same height.

“If you look at (Arnold) Palmer, (Gary) Player and (Jack) Nicklaus’ generation, I’d be tall. The guys now are all 6ft 3in and above. Bubba is 6ft three-and-a-half – he’s a big guy.

“It means you have leverage; you have the physical advantages to hit the ball further, and that’s where the game’s going.”

Woods has already started the year with a win, retaining his Buick Invitational title in San Diego last week, as he looks to prepare for the year’s first Major – the US Masters in April.

“I’ve made a good start to the year,” he added.

“It’s nice starting off the year with the check-list to get ready for Augusta not as long as it was last year.

“Last year I had to make some major changes before Augusta to be ready, and this year it is more just fine-tuning – which is great.”

Woods has been drawn with Henrik Stenson in his first two rounds in Dubai, pitching him against the form player – and one of the biggest and straightest hitters – on the European Tour.

At 29, Stenson is not a new kid on the block but he will offer Woods the sort of challenge the 10-time Major winner is expecting to face more and more.

The Swede, who won the Qatar Masters on Sunday and was runner-up at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship the week before, is sure Woods’ presence can help him beat fatigue.

“I’ve been playing in the last groups the last two weeks running, and it takes a bit of energy out of you,” said the Dubai resident.

“It’s a good thing I’ll be going out with Tiger and Darren (Clarke), because that’s really going to keep my motivation up.

“I played with Tiger in San Francisco [at the American Express World Golf Championship in October], and yardage-wise it seemed he was about 10 yards longer on a few of the drives. So I’m just going to step it up a little bit if I want to match him.”

Meanwhile, Ian Poulter will not be fined for wearing the Arsenal home jersey during his third round in Abu Dhabi.

However, players will no longer be permitted to sport football shirts in competition.

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