Wednesday, February 22, 2012


“I don’t think he’s at his best,” the World No 48 had said, innocently enough, on the eve of his World match-play collision with Woods in the Arizona desert.
The last unheralded opponent to try this tack with golf’s finest player was Stephen Ames, in 2006 — and he was promptly squashed 9 and  8.
Woods tends to brook no criticism of his game from lesser foes, and few would be surprised if he swatted his latest adversary with similar emphasis. But on the surface, the Tiger of 2012 is a mellower creature, and he was enigmatic on Tuesday when pressed on the Spaniard’s perceived slight.
“As I’ve matured, the way I look at it is that it’s just an opinion,” he said of his detractors. “It’s their prerogative. When I’m retired, I think I will have mastered a pretty good record.”
On Fernández-Castaño, whom he claimed to have seen only on the driving range, he added with a grin: “I think he’s beatable.”
Tiger's résumé at this tournament, which he has won three times, is difficult to denigrate.
“It brings you back to how all of us grew up playing.”
Woods will be hard pressed to claim a fourth title this week against the world’s all-British top three of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. No wonder the 14-time major champion stressed the importance of a fast start.
“You can shoot 65 but you go home (because the other guy shot 64), that’s just the way it is,” he said. “It’s the nature of the format.”
A doubt hangs over Woods’s endurance, though. At his first two events this season, in Abu Dhabi and at Pebble Beach, he has assumed winning positions, only to fritter away the momentum in the final round.
Here, the premium on sustained excellence is greater than ever, as he seeks to win six matches in five days. True to form, he did not blink as he surveyed the task.
Would he still believe that every putt could be buried? “Absolutely.” So his fearlessness was as intense as ever? “Oh yeah.”
Woods saved his most reflective answer for a teenage girl from a local education centre, who bravely asked him how he channelled his frustration after a poor hole.
His reply suggested that the tempers of old, which he has tried so hard to douse, still smouldered. “It’s a good thing that you get frustrated,” he argued.
“You have expectations of what you can do, what you can accomplish. There are times when I get angry, and angry on purpose, to get my energy up.”
Another who has had difficulty controlling his temper of late is Westwood, who threw an almighty sulk upon losing at the last in the Dubai Desert Classic. The last we saw him, he was striding past reporters without a word, although he tried yesterday to make light of the incident.
“I was being a drama queen, just for your benefit,” he said.
Westwood faces a tricky draw against Belgium’s long-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts, while McIlroy faces an equally intriguing match-up with George Coetzee, the fast-improving South African.
But the one for the aficionados is the confrontation between Donald and Ernie Els. The potential for an upset is plain, given that world No 1 Donald toiled to an uncharacteristic final-round 78 last weekend in Los Angeles.



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