Woods Sets Sights on Dubai Title

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Tiger Woods put his clubs away, forgot about golf as best he could and concentrated on his vacation.
 
He's ready to get back to work.
 
Woods won the Buick Invitational in a playoff Sunday in San Diego, his first tournament of the season after a six-week break -- the longest of his career. Now, after a 20-hour flight to the Persian Gulf, he'll make a third attempt at winning the Dubai Desert Classic, which begins play Thursday.
 
'After taking that much time off, to come back ... to put the pieces together so quickly in the year is a nice little bonus,' Woods said Wednesday.
 
He reportedly is being paid about $3 million to play in one of the flagship events of the PGA European Tour. The entire purse for the event is $2.4 million.
 
The Emirates Golf Course is a palm-lined oasis in the middle of Dubai, a booming city of 1.5 million. In 2001, Woods lost on the 72nd hole to Thomas Bjorn. In 2004, he finished five strokes behind winner and Florida neighbor Mark O'Meara.
 
During his break, Woods went more than three weeks without touching a club. He stayed home, spent time with his wife, Elin, and went skiing with O'Meara and his family.
 
'As far as thinking about any golf course, I made sure I didn't do that,' said Woods, who turned 30 on Dec. 30. 'And if I did think about my golf swing, I made sure it was brief. ... It was nice to get away and just have some fun with the family and friends and put the sticks away.'
 
The Dubai tournament drew a record crowd of 43,000 when Woods played two years ago. Without him last year, attendance was down by 3,000.
 
'Tiger Woods has that appeal to bring in the crowds,' said Mohamed Buamim, vice chairman of Golf in Dubai, the body that promotes the game. 'We can only expect the biggest crowd in the history of the tournament.'
 
The world's top-ranked player is joined by No. 3 Retief Goosen and No. 5 Ernie Els, the defending champion. Also in the field are Colin Montgomerie, David Howell, Henrik Stenson and Darren Clarke.
 
Els has won the tournament a record three times and will set a PGA European Tour record if he makes the cut Friday. He is tied with Bernhard Langer at 69 straight, a mark the German set in 1996.
 
Opened 18 years ago in a desert on the outskirts of the city, the Emirates Golf Club is now surrounded by gleaming skyscrapers and traffic-choked highways. But the weather is almost always warm and sunny on this tip of the Arabian peninsula.
 
The jewel of the club is the Majlis Course, which has been stretched to 7,264 yards -- about 150 yards more than it was five years ago when Woods first played the course. The greens are flat and lush, a relief for players who often complain about bumpy surfaces early in the year on the U.S. West Coast.
 
'It's nice to putt on greens that are smooth again,' Woods said.
 
The Desert Classic is the third and final event of three straight weeks of PGA European Tour play in the Middle East. Chris DiMarco of the U.S. won the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago. Henrik Stenson of Seden, who plays in a threesome with Woods on Thursday, won the Qatar Masters on Sunday.
 
'It's just fun to be out with the world's No. 1,' Stenson said. 'I think I'll have the motivation up for sure
 
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