Woods plays for troops and then heads for the bunker

Andy Farrell
Friday 05 March 2004 01:00
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Tiger Woods had to make a sudden readjustment to his game yesterday for the opening round of the Dubai Desert Classic. Once more playing a competitive round, Woods had to remember not to hit the ball into the water, something he has had an inordinate amount of practice at since arriving here.

On Tuesday, Woods was hitting balls into the sea from a helipad 900ft high on the side of his hotel. The following day, and all in a week's work for the world No 1, he was hitting balls off the deck of USS George Washington as he and Mark O'Meara gave a clinic for 6,000 troops.

Woods and O'Meara travelled up to Bahrain on his private jet. They were then transported by a windowless military plane to the aircraft carrier at an undisclosed location in the Gulf. They also gave out golf equipment provided by Nike and Titleist.

"That was one of the most awe-inspiring afternoons of my life," Tiger said. Woods is playing in the tournament this year after withdrawing 12 months ago due to the imminent war in Iraq.

Ernie Els, winner and runner-up in the last two years, is also present but the South African warned that it was not just the Els-Woods show. The first round certainly was not, since Wales's Bradley Dredge led the way with an eight-under-par 64, three ahead of David Howell.

Though they can build hotels in the middle of the sea and green golf courses in the middle of the desert, the sheikhs' money and the ingenuity of their engineers have yet to overcome another natural hazard, namely fog.

Play was delayed for two and a half hours at the beginning of the day and even though the sun eventually came out, the many buildings that have sprouted up around the course - it was once part of the Arabian wilderness but is now part of the ever-expanding city - remained misty shadows.

Only half the field completed their rounds and Woods was among those who will return this morning, fog permitting. He did, indeed, avoid the water as he went to the turn in two-under but he lost a ball off the 10th tee with, inevitably, a pushed drive and took a double-bogey seven.

His first shot today will be a birdie putt at the 13th to get back under par. Padraig Harrington was three-under with four to play, while the best score on the course was Scott Drummond's four-under after 11 holes.

Phillip Price would also have been at four-under had his long eagle putt at the third counted as such. But the Welshman was penalised two strokes for not having removed the flagstick. "My caddie and I were more concerned about the line and both of us forgot about the pin," Price said. "I've never done anything like that before."

Els, despite having practised here since Saturday, admitted to being rusty during his first tournament round for three weeks. He was a little grumpy that a bogey at his last hole, the ninth, meant a round of 70.

Earlier, when playing the 18th, the South African hit a three-iron left of the fairway and left of the 17th fairway, before hitting another three-iron on to the green and two-putting for a birdie. Not exactly the prescribed way to play the hole but Lee Westwood, his playing partner, could understand the theory.

"If Ernie hits a driver and it lands on the fairway, the rough has been shaved on the right and he could end up in the lake, which is plainly unfair," he said. Westwood also bogeyed his last hole for a 70 but the preceding group of Darren Clarke, Ian Poulter and Thomas Bjorn were in much better spirits despite finishing a collective two over par.

The group's only birdie on their back nine - the front nine of the course - came when Bjorn produced a three at the eighth. "It was so exciting we almost joined hands and danced around the green," said Clarke, who had a 72.

Dredge, who has been putting on an artificial putting green in his garden rather than spend the first part of the season globetrotting, made six birdies and an eagle at the 18th. "I thought the biggest thing I'd have to deal with was the greens because I haven't been playing in tournaments, but I putted fantastic today," he said.

DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC (United Arab Emirates) Leading early first-round scores - round incomplete because of fog (GB or Irl unless stated): 64 B Dredge. 67 D Howell. 68 R Green (Aus). 69 P Lawrie, P Fulke (Swe), G Orr, T Jaidee (Thai), P Baker, J Edfors (Swe), M Fraser (Aus), S Hansen (Den), S Khan. 70 P Hedblom (Swe), A Forsyth, L Westwood, E Els (SA), M Lemesurier, W Ormsby (Aus), M Maritz (SA), R Russell, C Cevaer (Fr), S Webster. 71 R Karlsson (Swe), R Gonzalez (Arg), M Lafeber (Neth), J Bickerton, M Tunnicliff, P Hanson (Swe). Selected: 72 D Clarke, S Lyle, A Coltart. 73 N Faldo, I Poulter.

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