Tiger Woods is looking forward to experiencing “wonderful things” during his maiden appearance at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championships.
“There are probably several reasons why I’ve wanted to come to Abu Dhabi. The guys who have played here have said just wonderful things,” said the former world number one at a press conference on Tuesday morning ahead of the action starting on Thursday.
Playing his first event of the year, Tiger said he was keen to experience the National Course.
“I hear nothing but positive things of the golf course. I know it's a long one. But somehow the scores seem to be pretty low,” said the 14-times Major winner who ended his two-year title drought at Chevron last month.
He added: “I’ve never played here before and this is exciting for me. This is an incredible field that they have assembled here.”
Woods also spoke warmly of HSBC, the title sponsor for the Championship. “HSBC has been a huge supporter of my Foundation for years,” he said.
Earlier, Tiger joined world numbers two and three, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, for a celebration of traditional Emirati ayala (celebration) dancing.
He wowed onlookers at Abu Dhabi Golf Club as he shook off the trans-Atlantic cobwebs and ‘moved’ to the UAE capital’s distinctive traditional beat.
“That was pretty special,” said Woods, the star attraction in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s my first time in Abu Dhabi and although as golfers we are used to travelling all over the world, we don’t usually get welcomes like that. It’s always fantastic to experience new cultures and traditions and I really got into the ayala beat; I’m not sure the canes would be too good on the putting greens this week though.”
The ayala dance celebration officially ushered in the seventh annual Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which will see triple and defending champion, Martin Kaymer, lock horns with Woods, Westwood and McIlroy, as well as world number one, Luke Donald, in the hunt for the Falcon trophy.
Reigning Major champions, Charl Schwartzel (US Masters) and Darren Clarke (The Open), Australian hot-shot, Jason Day, Korea’s top ranked player, KJ Choi, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Ireland’s Padraig Harrington are also in the star studded line-up.
Garcia says three factors attract him to the Desert Swing tournaments: the courses, the weather and the great competition.
He said: “To start with, the courses are usually in good shape. They are good challenges for us to start the year. It's usually nice weather which is tough to get in most parts of Europe at this time of the year.
“Also, they manage to get great fields. When you have a tournament with the calibre of players that you can get here, it obviously is an asset.”
He also highlighted another attraction for him – Yas Marina Circuit, the home of the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. He said he was looking forward to fitting in a “nice session at the Yas Marina track. Hopefully we will be able to do it later in the week.”
Schwartzel and Australia’s Jason Day are looking to end six years of Northern Hemisphere dominance at this week’s Championship, having finished first and second, respectively, at last year’s US Masters.
The Championship has never been claimed by a player from a nation south of the equator, with American Chris DiMarco (2006), Englishman Paul Casey (2007, 2009) and Kaymer (2008, 2010, 2011) sharing previous spoils on Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course.
Now the young, Abu Dhabi-bound duo have declared their intent to enter the $2.7 million event’s history books by becoming the first Southern Hemisphere player to win the ‘Falcon’ trophy.
“A lot of the top players in the field are from the Northern Hemisphere, with many lining up for their first tournament of the season - they’ll be fresh and ready to go,” said Schwartzel. “We’ll need to be playing well to end the northern guys’ victory run, but we’ve got plenty of talent and we’re confident a Southern Hemisphere player can win in Abu Dhabi.”