Qatar upstaged by Woods

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The Independent Online

While the European Tour is boasting that the Qatar Masters will be, statistically speaking, the premier tournament taking place this weekend, everyone knows this is not true. Because Tiger Woods is back and that means the game's 2007 starts in San Diego.

There are not many in California who are not expecting the world No 1 to begin his year with a "W", either. The 31-year-old first played Torrey Pines when he was 12 and were he to prevail on one of his preferred layouts this would be his fifth Buick Invitational title in 10 outings. Which even by Woods' standards is impressive.

His 84th career victory would also stretch his winning streak on the PGA Tour to seven and so take him to second on the all-time "consecutive victories" list. However, it is a mark of the man and, indeed, of the extent of his ambition that he is downplaying the significance of the run. "My streak really ended when I lost in the first round of the World Match Play at Wentworth last September," he declared.

In Woods' eyes history does not need to be forced and that is understandable when he is just the Masters and US Open away from claiming his second "Tiger Slam" (holding all four majors at the same time). That must be his overriding goal for this season, although a baby and a cheque for $10m (£5.1) will doubtless also figure high on the priority list.

His wife, Elin, is due to have their first child in July and two months later Woods is likely to receive the biggest winner's cheque in the history of sport. The FedEx Cup play-offs in September will be the culmination of a points race that began with the Tour's first event of the season a fortnight ago, although it is this belated entrance of the favourite that will open the stalls. The local boy, Phil Mickelson, is this week's biggest rival, along with Vijay Singh, but with just four out of the world's top 20 in attendance the Buick cannot claim bragging rights over the Qatar Masters, which has six.

Ernie Els is the hottest draw in the desert as he begins his audacious campaign to overhaul Woods in the rankings. The pair will go head-to-head in Dubai next week, but first the South African must deal with the likes of Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen. An appetising starter.