Tiger heads east for Desert Classic

THE European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic beginning over the Emirates Course on Thursday, offers $2.5m (€1.8m) in prize money while, across the Atlantic, The AT&T Pro-Am on the US PGA Tour carries a purse of $6.3m (€4.6m).

Given the monetary difference you would expect America’s finest to try their luck over the famous Pebble Beach links course on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

And yet, Tiger Woods has opted to head to the Middle East. Is the $US3m (€2.2m) appearance fee he receives once he tees it up outside of the United States a factor in his decision? You might think money was no longer a concern for Woods (no matter how much his divorce from Elin has set him back) but clearly that is not the case.

Dubai has been a regular calling place of his since 2001 and he also makes annual forays to Australia and Japan.

Such sweeteners are strictly banned on the US Tour. The European Tour also rules them out — unless the fortunate individual concerned is prepared to do more than just play golf and practice. Turn up at a dinner here and a clinic there and press some of the sponsor’s flesh and the cheque will be waiting for you.

Woods has no problem with such stipulations and to his credit, he treats the tournament with the respect it deserves. He first contested the Desert Classic in 2001, was winner in 2006 and ‘08 and in his five appearances has never finished worse than 5th.

In the second of those victories, Woods went into the fourth round four shots behind Ernie Els but played the final nine holes in 30 for a round of 66 and a winning total of 14 under par.

So the oil rich Sheikhs of Dubai are happy to splash the cash, safe in the knowledge that their event assumes a significantly greater cachet with Tiger Woods in the field.

They are on a winner this week as it is the first occasion where Woods has the opportunity to put one over on Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, both of whom have superseded him as the number one and two golfers on the planet.

Woods considers this as an opportunity to set the record straight and his presence makes for a captivating four days.

Westwood has ground to make up having missed the cut in Qatar at the weekend — nor did he figure the previous week in Bahrain where he tied 64th. Kaymer further established himself as arguably the top player in the world with an impressive victory in Abu Dhabi but managed only a moderate share of 28th in Qatar.

Dubai will be far from a three man battle with so many other outstanding players in the field. The man they all may need to watch is Rory McIlroy, the winner of the title two years ago. It remains his only victory on the European Tour but he finished runner-up to Kaymer in Abu Dhabi and given his liking for the Emirates lay-out, should be well in the running come Sunday. Thomas Bjorn is another who likes the course and looks back to his best after a win in Qatar. Look out, too, for Darren Clarke who came from six over after round one in that event to finish four under and in a share of 12th. Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin, Damien McGrane, Michael Hoey and Paul McGinley are also in action.

Meanwhile, Pádraig Harrington makes his US Tour season start at Pebble Beach. Once again, JP McManus is his amateur partner as they bid to add this title to the Dunhill Links team prize they have twice captured at St Andrews. Few professionals enjoy pro-ams as much as Harrington, not least when close friend McManus is his partner, and he would certainly fancy a big tournament having slipped to 32nd in the world ranking. Phil Mickelson is also in the Pebble field with Kevin Costner, the star of the classic golf movie, Tin Cup.

Army officer Rowells wins chance to play with Woods

AN American army officer serving in war-torn Afghanistan has won the chance to play with Tiger Woods in the Dubai Desert Classic pro-am tomorrow.

Lt Col Michael Rowells, who has a nine handicap and is deployed currently with the 401st Army Field Support Brigade, beat 16,000 other amateur golfers in a draw ahead of the tournament’s traditional curtain raiser at the Emirates Golf Club.

Rowells will fly out to Dubai specially for the Pro-Am tournament and his big chance to play with Woods. “I am thrilled and can’t believe my luck,” Rowells said. “I registered with little hope of actually being selected. Miracles do happen.”

Woods’ father Earl did two tours during the Vietnam War as a member of the US Army Special Forces, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. It was his second tour that shaped the latter part of his life. He met Kultida Punsawad, who was working as a receptionist in Thailand, and married her in 1969. He fought alongside Lt. Col. Nguyen T. Phong of the South Vietnamese army, a friend he nicknamed “Tiger” because of his courage and bravery. Earl Woods promised Tiger Phong that he would name a son after him.

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