Is this the week Tiger Woods turns his momentum around?
You would think the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai would be good for what ails Tiger Woods at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week.
But that’s what we thought about Torrey Pines before Woods shot 74-75 on the weekend in his season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago, and that’s what we thought about Firestone Country Club last August before he closed with a 77 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to finish the tournament 18 over par.
In Woods’ last five starts at Dubai, here’s his line: W, T-3, W, T-5, T2. He sports a 67.9 scoring average there, and he’s been over par just once in 20 rounds there. His worst score on the course is a 73. The last time Woods played at Emirates, he beat a leaderboard that looks better than ever today. In ’08, he beat Martin Kaymer by a shot, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen by two and Graeme McDowell by four.
Still, unless conditions have been dramatically altered, European Tour broadcaster Jay Townsend’s expecting a less Tiger friendly setup. The former European Tour player reports the course was set up with “super narrow fairways” and “deep, thick rough” when he played it two weeks ago.
While the Dubai field is strong at the top with four of the top seven in the world rankings playing, it isn’t particularly deep. Overall, just nine of the top 50 in the world are scheduled to play. The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is host to 11 of the top 50 this week, and AT&T no longer ranks among the deepest fields on the PGA Tour.
If Woods can’t muster a run at Emirates, after failing to muster a run at Torrey Pines, doubts about his game are sure to escalate among his fellow tour pros and among media. The larger question is whether they grow in Woods’ head and heart.
Whatever you can do we can do better?
With No. 1 Lee Westwood, No. 2 Kaymer and No. 3 Woods grouped together for the first two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the European Tour’s managed to trump the PGA Tour yet again.
With news filtering out last week that the PGA Tour is now arranging marquee groupings, the European Tour arranged the year’s best possible threesome, putting 1-2-3 together. The trio goes off at 12:20 p.m. Emirates time (3:20 a.m. ET) for Thursday’s first round and off again at 8 a.m. Friday Emirates time (That’s actually 11 p.m. Thursday ET).
All three have good records there. Kaymer’s three Dubai starts finished like this: T-4, T-4, 2nd. Westwood has finished runner-up twice there, including last year, when he lost in a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Will the Europeans keep pushing past Americans on the OWGR?
With Westwood, Kaymer and Woods in Dubai, it marks the first time a European Tour event outside a major championship and World Golf Championship has been host to the top three players in the world since 1994.
Four of the top seven players in the Official World Golf Ranking are teeing it up in Dubai with No. 7 Rory McIlroy in the mix.
McIlroy won this event two years ago.
If the Euros outplay Woods, it emboldens a continent already soaring in rank. At the start of the ’08 season, the top four players in the world rankings were Americans. This week, five of the top seven are Europeans.
Will Dustin Johnson three-peat at Pebble Beach?
In the rich history of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, nobody’s ever won the event three consecutive years.
Last year, Dustin Johnson joined Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff and Mark O’Meara as back-to-back winners of the event.
The resilience Johnson showed coming back to win so quickly after his PGA Championship debacle last year leads you to believe there will be no lingering effects from his Sunday meltdown at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last summer, when he squandered a chance to win his first major championship. It leads you to believe he’ll be more determined to bounce back and make history this year.
Who’s going to stop Mark Wilson?
With power players dominating at Torrey Pines two events ago, with the changes to the grooves rule appearing to have negligible effect on bomb-and-gouge tactics, it’s good to see Mark Wilson become the first player to chalk up multiple victories this year. He’s using accuracy, strong iron play and a hot putter to dissect courses, instead of overpowering them.
Wilson, winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Sony Open, will be looking for his third victory this season in four starts at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. In eight appearances in the event, he’s never finished better than T-25, but he’s never arrived there this hot, either.
Wilson leaped from No. 234 in the world rankings at year’s start to No. 51 this week. He’s also jumped to No. 7 on the U.S. Presidents Cup standings.
Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell