Focus remains on Woods ahead of Omega Dubai Desert Classic

Graeme McDowell, Tiger Woods and Danny Willett have all been speaking ahead of the tournament

BY Cian Roche 18:49 Wednesday 1 February 2017, 18:49 1 Feb 2017

Image: Gregory Bull / AP/Press Association Images

The world's best golfers have descended on the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week and while defending Danny Willett returns to action, all the focus will stay on Tiger Woods.

The 14-time major winner follows up his return to the course at last week's Farmers Insurance Open - where he missed the cut - and is looking to make an impact in this his 21st year on tour.

"You've got Tiger in the field - obviously it's disappointing to not have Rory - but there's still a great buzz around," says Graeme McDowell.

"Anytime Tiger Woods is teeing it up in a tournament, he's the guy who moves the needle more than anyone. We've got some great young golfers in the world but Tiger is still Tiger.  Greatest player to ever play the game perhaps. We're all very keen to see how his game is."

McDowell, who has enjoyed some top 10 finishes in the desert, says the progress the tournament itself has made is staggering.

"This is obviously the original event in this part of the world. It's always greatly supported, it's a classic golf course and it's amazing to see how the city has grown up around it.

"My goals this year are really simple; work hard,  be calm and be patient and most of all enjoy my golf. Get back to playing the game for what it is and continue to enjoy the game that I love. It's been a bit of a grind the last couple of years."

Speaking ahead of Thursday's opening round, Woods reaffirmed that he's not on the course just to get some practice rounds under his belt or to ease back into the swing of things.

"If I'm teeing up, the goal is to win it," he said. "That doesn't change, whether I'm injured or coming off an injury, whether I'm playing well or playing poorly. The goal is to win."

Tiger Woods on course last week at the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. Image: Gregory Bull / AP/Press Association Images

One man who knows all about winning here is defending champion Danny Willett. The Sheffield native enjoyed a blistering start to the 2016 season and he says it's nice to return to the desert.

"It's always good to come back to a golf course where you've played well, for me of course a defending champion," said last year's Masters champion. "It's something that you'd like to be able to do a couple of times per year.

"This one for me really started an unbelievable run last year. So for me this was a catalyst to what was a good year."

The 29-year-old recalled his performance last year and pinpointed the moment he thought he would be able to win the tournament.

"I had a nice little bounce back off the rocks and out of the water on 13 on... I can't remember what day it was. The wind was out to the right, so I tried to hit a cut against the breeze. We had just over-cut it a little bit and it was coming back at the end but not enough.

"It was pitched about three inches into the water, but there's also quite a shallow little ledge there with rocks and it just popped back up. I got it up and down for birdie. 

"It's those things that just happen. Had that just gone in the water, I probably would have just got it up and down for par. That's fine. But obviously, with how it happened and then to make birdie, you kind of chuckle to yourself and walk to the next thinking 'well, you never know'."

Willett says what was different for him last year was the fact he was able to translate his additional practice to birdies on course.

"I was taking what I was practicing out onto the golf course. If you speak to a couple of guys, that's a rarefied thing. Sometimes you practice well and you can't take it to the golf course. Other times your practice is terrible but you get around the golf course nicely.

"Last year around here I had six days, obviously the practice and the four tournament days, where I was good on the range and I took it to the golf course. You kept building confidence."



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