Tiger Woods finally has his affairs in order.
For the first time in a long time, the former world's No. 1 embarks on a new season restored to full health and with renewed confidence in his ability to win.
"Yes. Ready to go," he tweeted to a fan.
It has been more than two years since revelations of multiple infidelities left his marriage in a shambles, his marquee reputation tarnished and his once-indomitable game in tatters.
Aside from the occasional tease, like his T4 at the Masters, Woods seemed in complete disarray until strong showings at the Australian Masters and Presidents Cup followed by a [limited-field] win in the Chevron World Challenge suggested to many that the complex swing changes he struggled to incorporate, under the tutelage of Canadian coach Sean Foley, appeared to be taking hold.
Carry over the momentum from that late-season upswing and combine it with a clean bill of health and an off-season dedicated to practice and devoid of distraction and one can again sense the positive vibes emanating from Woods.
"It's been quite a few years since I've been physically fit," an upbeat Woods told reporters Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to getting out there and then playing and giving it a full season, which I haven't done in a while, so I'm really looking forward to that."
"It's probably been about eight, 10, 12 years ago I felt 100 per cent. I had surgery in 2002, I had surgery in 2008 [and] a couple of other ones in there, too.
"I missed most of last year and then to finally be able to get ready for a tournament properly and to do the type of lifting that I think I need to do to be ready, I was finally able to do that. Hence, my game came around, so it's very exciting."
'Great things from Tiger this year'
A tiger is no more motivated than by hunger. And should mind, body and swing be as sound as advertised, there is no reason why Woods cannot win a tournament or two in 2012, perhaps even a major. At 36, he remains immensely talented and intensely competitive. And with the current rankings system, a couple of wins could propel him back into the Top 5 before you can say Augusta in April.
Not bad, considering a month ago he was mired in 52nd.
Woods opens this season ranked 25th in the world, a somewhat pedestrian placement considering he stood No. 1 for a record 623 weeks (By comparison, Luke Donald has ruled for 34 weeks). But Woods, a winner of 14 majors and still the dominant presence in the sport, has been a dismal performer the past two years. Inner turmoil, mounting injuries and a game in perpetual transition have made him look, um, pedestrian -- talking the talk but not walking the walk.
But veteran pro Colin Montgomerie cautions that it would be unwise to dismiss Woods' ability -- and willingness -- to create shots under pressure because he "hasn't played much in the last two years."
"I expect great things from Tiger this year," Montgomerie said.
Like most of the greats, Woods finds unique ways to succeed, or to fail in trying. Win or lose, every round he plays is a command performance and makes for fascinating theatre and water-cooler fodder.
And why peers like Monty, who predicts Woods win two majors this year, pat him on the back for his ingenuity.
'A giant of the sport'
Love him or loathe him, Woods remains the most talked about golfer on the planet -- and the talk of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, despite the presence of Nos. 1-4 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer.
Indicative of fans' fascination with Woods is that he, an American with just one limited-field win in two years, is a bigger draw at an elite European Tour event than that tour's -- and the world's -- finest foursome. HSBC sponsorship guru Giles Morgan reportedly went so far as to proclaim Woods "a giant of the sport" who will all but guarantee, well, gigantic galleries as he makes his Abu Dhabi debut.
Such is the attraction that is -- and to -- Tiger Woods.
Woods' decision to open the season on foreign rather than home soil no doubt was driven by Abu Dhabi's irresistible seven-figure appearance fee (rumoured to be $2.5 million). But lowering expectations might have something to do with it, too.
It could be argued that it's all part of a winning strategy -- that playing the challenging National Course for the very first time, against the stiffest of competition, will merit Woods a mulligan should he fare poorly. Conversely, expectations would be ridiculously high were Woods to play in the Farmers Insurance Open at San Diego. Toss out last year's career-worst T44 and he has owned Torrey Pines, winning seven times there, including the U.S. Open on a bum knee in 2008. The pressure to win again would be extreme.
Opening a scrutinous season overseas affords him the luxury of either returning home having beaten the world's best or making a winning proposition of losing.
If that's the case, then Woods has already won.
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