After demolishing the field in his first start of the year last Sunday, Tiger Woods is back in the Gulf with the bit between his teeth as he looks to win Dubai Desert Classic for the second time.
The World Number One will tee off in the first round in the company of Colin Montgomerie and Niclas Fasth at 8.15am, looking to win for the seventh time in eight outings since the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational in August.
Last week he showed no sign of letting up as, after a four-week break, he won by eight strokes to capture his 62nd US PGA Tour title. This week his target is a 34th European Tour victory.
“It’s nice to get some warm weather and I'm really loking forward to teeing it up in the tournament,” said Woods after the Pro-Am over the Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club.
“It's one of those things where I've always played pretty well coming off breaks, and you feel fresh and my practice sessions were pretty good, so I'm really excited about getting back out and playing. You know, coming over here after playing well last week, I'm really looking forward to teeing it up this week and giving it a go.”
Woods will understandably be the bookmakers' favourite to lift the title, and has said he is now playing better than he did during his phenomenal 2000 season.
“People ask me if it's a run, but I think it's just improvement,” he said. “One of the reasons why I made the changes was to get to this point. People ask me, why did you make the changes back in '97? Well, look what happened in '99 and 2000, '01 and '02.
“Then I made the changes a few years ago, and look where we are now. You make changes to get better, and you can see the results of the work I've put in with Hank over the last few years. And the great thing is, we have a long way to go.”
After his winter break, Woods appears to be back with renewed vigour.
“It's nice to have an off season. I've never taken one since I've been on Tour. Amateur golf, yes, but not since I've been on Tour. Usually after our season is done Stateside, I usually go overseas and play.
“We have a new addition to the family, so that's been just a blast being at home and watching Sam develop and grow and change. That to me has been a lot of fun. I can see why guys thoroughly enjoy having off seasons. It is nice to get away from the game of golf and recharge and do different things, so that when you come back out, you're fresh and ready to go.”
Woods has not always had his own way at Emirates Golf Club unlike at Torrey Pines, where he has won the Buick Invitational for the last four years.
One player looking to exploit that is the current leader of The European Tour Order of Merit, Lee Westwood, who has finished in the top five in his three events this season. Indeed, his run of top tens extends to eight in his last nine European Tour events, and 11 in his last 12 worldwide.
“Dubai is a place I like playing,” said the Englishman. “I’ve always felt the course suits me and it is a great field, so it should be a great tournament. Tiger is in, Ernie is playing and many others, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Westwood has been in great form of late. “I think it's a combination of a lot of things with the work I've done on my fitness, and obviously the short game work I've done with Mark Roe has had big benefits, so I can be a lot more aggressive on the golf course with flags,” he explained. “ It's easier for me to get up and down now.
“After putting with Paul Hurrion, and starting to roll a few more in, your confidence increases. And just the work I've done with my dad at home on the range. I'm a lot more confident with my technique. I've taken it more on my shoulders what I want to do with my golf swing, and I understand my golf swing a lot better now - what works for me.”