Dubai Desert Classic: Five players to watch

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Here, Sport360 looks at the players to watch out for and the dark horses who could spring a few surprises.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

TIGER WOODS

World Ranking: 666

2016 Race to Dubai: NA

Best results in 2016: T15 (Hero World Challenge)

Last five tournaments: MC-T15-T10-MC-T18

Last five years at Desert Classic: DNP-DNP-T41-DNP-DNP

Desert Classic record: P – 7, W – 2, T-10s – 5, MC – 0

The biggest superstar in world golf makes his eighth appearance at the Desert Classic, with a question mark still hanging over his long-term future in the game. But Majlis is a course where he has done well in the past, and his aura still remains untarnished. Definitely one to watch, even if he is not contending for the title.

DANNY WILLETT

World Ranking: 13

2016 Race to Dubai: 2

Best results in 2016: Winner (Omega Dubai Desert Classic, The Masters)

Last five tournaments: MC-T6-T50-T11-T68

Last five years at Desert Classic: W-T13-T13-MC-T33

Desert Classic record: P – 7, W – 1, T-10s – 1, MC – 2

The reigning Masters champions did not have a good start to the season, but insists his struggles are not a continuation of late last year when he played too much and appeared tired. Missed the cut in Abu Dhabi as he could not get a fade going, but appears confident that he has gotten over his problems. Expect a strong title defence from him.

HENRIK STENSON

World Ranking: 4

2016 Race to Dubai: 1

Best results in 2016: Winner (Open Championship, BMW International Open)

Last five tournaments: T8-2-T9-8-T2

Last five years at Desert Classic: T6-T13-T29-T26-T20

Desert Classic record: P – 16, W – 1, T-10s – 6, MC – 3

The 41-year-old hasn’t had the best of times in the last few years on a golf course that he knows like the back of his hand. But Stenson has carried his form from the end of last year, and after a good outing in Abu Dhabi, has sharpened his game further last week. With his kind of ball-striking, he will always be a threat here.

SERGIO GARCIA

World Ranking: 15

2016 Race to Dubai: 22

Best results in 2016: Winner (AT&T Byron Nelson Classic)

Last five tournaments: T11-T19-T9-T17-T47

Last five years in Desert Classic: DNP-MC-DNP-T17-DNP

Desert Classic record: P – 7, W – 0, T-10s – 0, MC – 2

The Spanish sensation does not have the best of records at the Majlis course, which is a surprise given how good his ball-striking is. However, Garcia is enjoying his life outside the golf course, and is in a happy place after recently announcing he is getting married. The key for him would be how well his putter behaves this week.

LEE WESTWOOD

World Ranking: 43

2016 Race to Dubai: 13

Best results in 2016: Runner-up (The Masters)

Last five tournaments: T8-T13-T52-T29-3

Last five years at Desert Classic: MC-DNP-T9-T5-2

Desert Classic record: P – 21, W – 0, T-10s – 8, MC – 4

Westwood made a strong start to his season with a top-10 finish in Abu Dhabi and his game looks in great shape at the moment. The veteran has an experience of 21 Desert Classics, and that always comes in handy. Before missing the cut last year, he had a streak of 17 straight cuts made. Tee to green, he is always superb, it is the greens that will decide his finish.

DARK HORSES

IAN POULTER

World ranking: 206

2016 Race to Dubai ranking: NA

Best results in 2016: T3 (Puerto Rico Open)

Last five tournaments: T39-T61-T21-T36-MC

Best round at Desert Classic: 67 (2006)

Is playing here after a gap of nine years. Did not do too well before that, but he is now a completely different player. Missed most of last year with a foot injury but showed glimpses of good form in Abu Dhabi. His putting could be key.

THONGCHAI JAIDEE

World Ranking: 61

2016 Race to Dubai: 24

Best results in 2016: Winner (Open de France)

Last five tournaments: MC-MC-T6-T14-T40

Best round at Desert Classic: 67 (2006)

Has played the tournament every year since the turn of the century, delivering three top10s with a best of T3 in 2010. Not in particularly good form, but loves the golf course. The 47-year-old has plenty of experience to arrest the slide.

JEUNGHUN WANG

World ranking: 39

2016 Race to Dubai ranking: 24

Best results in 2016: Winner (Hassan Trophy, AfrAsian Bank Open)

Last five tournaments: W-T11-MC-T17-2

Best round at Desert Classic: Debut

It doesn’t matter if he never played the course before, because he has won all three of his European Tour titles on his debut appearance. Momentum is with the 21-year-old and his exceptional short game is an advantage on any golf course.

THOMAS PIETERS

World ranking: 51

2016 Race to Dubai ranking: 25

Best results in 2016: Winner (Made in Denmark)

Last five tournaments: MC-T40-T34-T14-T31

Best round at Desert Classic: 69 (thrice in 2015)

Hasn’t been in best form since his sensational Ryder Cup debut. But the young Belgian is known for his power hitting and his ability to go low. Has worked hard the last week, so expect him to up the game.

ANIRBAN LAHIRI

World ranking: 86

2016 Race to Dubai ranking: 89

Best results in 2016: Runner-up (Venetian Macao Open)

Last five tournaments: T25-MC-T13-T28-T62

Best round at Desert Classic: 74 (in 2010)

Is slowly getting back to form, with a major positive being he is making a lot of birdies, which helps keep the scoring ticking over and make up for faults elsewhere. Playing his first Desert Classic in seven years. Has become a much smarter player since.

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#360view: Tiger far from being an endangered species

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Tiger Woods continues his quest this week at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to get back to the place where we all are accustomed to seeing him.

However, unlike his last attempt in 2014, which fizzled out very soon with the back issue arising again, he seems to have accepted a few hard facts of life. Age is catching up with Woods, and his body is no longer what it used to be.

Not that you’d guess that by looking at the 41-year-old, he seems to have lost weight and looking supremely fit otherwise as he played the pro-am yesterday at Emirates Golf Club.

But while his hunger remains undiminished, in his pre-tournament press conference, he admitted to a changing of the guard, and that he will probably find it hard to match the power game of today’s generation. Accepting that fact is good for Woods.

While most people were in awe of his long game and how he brought golf courses to their knees with brute strength, it often hid the fact that the former world No1 actually had a short game to die for. At Torrey Pines last week, he was consistently out-driven by Dustin Johnson and Jason Day.

That really wasn’t his main issue, his troubles were more because he kept spraying his drives. But Woods spoke about how he is trying to move with the times like his good friend Roger Federer did and was successful in winning the Australian Open.

Woods has also drawn inspiration from the fact that Jim Furyk, one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour, was able to score two rounds in the 50s recently.

He has made peace with the fact that he does not have to bomb 320-yard drives to score well, and that is something that should help him on a course like Majlis this week. What would constitute a real progress for Woods this week?

He believes, and rightly so, that he can win the tournament. And while on the basis of what we saw at Torrey Pines, that would seem to be a distant dream, there cannot be any doubt that a strategic golf course like Majlis gives him a great chance to move into contention.

In the pro-am, Woods hit some great shots and some iffy ones with the driver. And while hitting the driver well does give a lot of advantage on any golf course, Woods can possibly get by here with a threewood. And his short game seems to be in pretty good shape.

Whatever be the final outcome of his efforts, there is absolutely no denying what he brings to the table. Despite the fact world No2 Rory McIlroy pulled out, there is an immense buzz around the tournament, all because of Woods.

Rarely do you see more than hundreds of fans following a group in a pro-am, but it happened on Wednesday. The tournament received nearly 260 accreditation requests from media around the world, and the last time that number was bettered was in 2014, when Woods featured at the 25th anniversary.

The American was asked if he ever tried to reflect on what he means to golf. He dodged the question, saying it was something he refrained from doing as he keeps his focus on being a player.

But one just needs to come to the Emirates Golf Club to realise that Woods, even when struggling, is worth his weight in gold.

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WATCH: FORE! Tiger returns to Burj Al Arab

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(Credit: Getty Images for Falcon ©)

Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf continues in Dubai at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic from February 2-5.

Ahead of the event he visited the Burj Al Arab, the iconic Dubai landmark where he famously hit balls off the helipad in 2004.

Woods, making his eighth appearance in the tournament that he won in 2006 and 2008, took time out to practise his swing on the terrace and was on the helipad again to take a helicopter tour of the city that in 2019 will become home to a course he is designing.

How do you think Tiger will fare at the Dubai Classic?
Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.




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