Woods happy in the desert

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The Independent Online

Tiger Woods was a busy man yesterday. After hitting a few shots from the top of the Burj Al Arab Hotel into the Arabian Gulf, the world No 1 was flown off by helicopter for a nine-hole challenge match with Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Mark O'Meara. Then it was back to his luxury base to eat, rest and set his alarm for a 7.45am tee-off in the Desert Classic pro-am.

After pulling out of the event last year because of the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Woods has received the necessary assurances about security. His manager, Mark Steinberg, said that he was "very comfortable" with all the arrangements.

"It does not look far on the map [between the United Arab Emirates and Baghdad], but it feels a long way from it," he said. "That said, you have to take precautions wherever you are in the world. We gave a promise last year that Tiger would return and we're happy to be back."

Woods was in San Diego on Sunday making a successful defence of the Accenture World Matchplay title, the 53rd victory of a professional career still in only its ninth season.

On his one previous appearance in Dubai three years ago Woods lost to Thomas Bjorn after taking a double bogey seven on the last. A month later he completed golf's first clean sweep of the four majors.

Woods' appearances on the European Tour will again be limited this season. He is definitely not making another trip to the Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Heidelberg. But he will be at Troon in Scotland for the Open in July and at Mount Juliet in Ireland for his defence of the American Express World Championship in September.

That comes two weeks after the Ryder Cup in Detroit and two weeks before the HSBC World Matchplay at Wentworth. Woods chose not to play in the latter event last October and Steinberg stated: "The timing is awkward again, but we spoke about it on the flight over here and there's still a chance."

Els, twice a winner of the Desert Classic and runner-up to Robert-Jan Derksen last year, should feel good about his chances here. The South African elected not to play in California last week, is the course record holder with his 61 from 10 years ago and opened his campaign with a European Tour record-equalling 60 in winning the Heineken Classic in Melbourne four weeks ago.

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