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Steve Sands - January 25, 2012

Steve Sands
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RABAT, MOROCCO - MARCH 18: Nick Dougherty of England waits to tee off at the 17th during the first round of the Hassan II Golf Trophy at Royal Golf Dar Es Salam on March 18, 2010 in Rabat, Morocco. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)  - 

Steve Sands is in Abu Dhabi this week to cover the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship for Golf Channel. Tiger Woods is practicing at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Wednesday and he is playing a practice round after the pro-am portion of this week’s tournament. He went to play after some practice time on the range and did not take questions from the press.

Just like in Australia and at the Chevron World Challenge, Tiger seems to be very relaxed and more at ease than he has been in recent years this week at Abu Dhabi. It has been well documented how difficult it has been for Tiger in the past couple of years but it is clear that Tiger is now more comfortable both inside and outside the ropes than he has been in quite a while.

Lee Westwood is great physical shape as he starts 2012 and he comes to Abu Dhabi after a caribbean vacation where he did not touch a club for two weeks. The World #2 starts his year refreshed and fit and he should be a bit relieved that he will be able to begin his season a bit more under the radar than usual because he will not be grouped with World #1 Luke Donald and World #3 Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds. Instead, Tiger Woods will have that position.

In his second live report from Abu Dhabi, Sands started by saying that 3-time Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Champion Martin Kaymer is unbelievably under the radar this week despite winning by 8 shots in 2011 and being 4th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He spends some time during his offseason in Scottsdale, AZ so he is used to and comfortable with the desert golf courses. Kaymer is all business when he prepares to play tournaments and whenever he plays, he is ready to succeed and win.

World #1 Luke Donald has changed 12 of his 14 clubs for 2012 but the change is not as radical as some may believe because he is still using Mizuno irons and because he, like many tour pros, is someone who likes to tinker with his clubs and his game on a regular basis. He did not change his putter from 2011 and even though he has not played in several weeks, Donald says that he is confident that he will get off to strong start in 2012.

World #2 Lee Westwood was left out of a group with Donald and McIlroy in favor of Tiger Woods and when Sands asked him about it, Westwood confirmed that it does not bother him and in fact he is very happy to be playing in the afternoon while Tiger et al are playing in the morning so he will be able to avoid them altogether. Westwood feels that being able to get away from such a circus can only help.