There were flashes of brilliance from Tiger Woods at the Dubai Desert Classic but also plenty of signs his new swing remains a work in progress.
Woods himself has no doubts about his future.
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”I feel like I can still win golf tournaments,” the American said. ”I’m not that old. I’ve still got some years ahead of me.”
Woods drew cheers on Thursday when he hit a 3-wood 250 yards to the 18th green for an eagle. But he had trouble finding the fairway for much of the week in Dubai, his putter ran hot and cold and even his once-dangerous short game let him down Sunday when he finished tied for 20th.
Woods started the final round a shot behind but opened with two bogeys on his first three holes. He kept coming back with birdies on Nos. 6 and 11 but followed that with a bogey on the 12th and 14th holes and then a double bogey on the last.
He has now gone 16 tournaments without a victory after previously winning 14 majors and 82 tournaments in his illustrious career. His last win was at the Australian Masters in November 2009.
”Yeah, very frustrating,” Woods said of his round Sunday which ended with a 3-over 75 that left him at 4-under for the tournament and seven shots behind winner Alvaro Quiros of Spain. ”I got off to such a poor start, I was 2-over through three early and just couldn’t make it up from there.”
Woods, who opened with a decent 1-under 71 and then moved into contention Friday with a 6-under 66, couldn’t keep the momentum going into the weekend. He carded a par-72 in windy conditions Saturday and then imploded with a final round that exposed the many challenges for his swing.
On the second, he drove over the green and then chipped past the hole to the edge which led to his first bogey. On the third, he yelled at several photographers for disturbing his swing after his approach shot went left.
But the No. 3-ranked Woods also showed signs that the work he has been doing on his swing with coach Sean Foley is paying dividends. He hit a 160-yard approach shot to within a few feet of the pin for a birdie on the sixth and then on the par-3 11th hit a tee shot that settled just a few feet away for an easy birdie.
Woods said he just needed ”more work and more practice.”
”As I said when I came in this week, I hit the ball pure, and that’s the thing,” Woods said. ”When the wind blows, I have to shape shots and hit shots differently and all my old feels are kind of out the window. That’s the thing about making changes. As I said, I’ve been through this before with my last two instructors and it will come around.”
The former top-ranked Woods insisted his performance this week was ”a step in the right direction.”
”I improved a lot considering where I was at Torrey Pines a couple of weeks ago,” Woods said of the tournament where he had his worst season-opening performance. ”Obviously, I didn’t finish the way I needed to win (Dubai) … Put myself there after two rounds and just didn’t get it done.”
Woods tied for 44th at Torrey Pines, where he had won the last five times he had played and had never finished out of the top 10.
On Sunday Woods couldn’t have missed the cheers as Quiros chipped in for an eagle on 2 and then carded several more birdies to move to 11 under and five shots ahead of Woods after six holes. By the turn, most fans had started shifting their attention to the duel between Quiros, Anders Hansen of Denmark and James Kingston of South Africa.
Hansen and Kingston finished a shot behind Quiros.
Woods still had a mathematical chance as he came onto the 14th when he was four shots back with five holes to go.
But Woods hit his drive into the rocks, a second into the bunker and then missed an easy par put to settle for bogey that ended his chances. He finished with three more pars and the double bogey on 18.
A victory here would have drawn a line in the sand for the beleaguered Woods.
This would have been his 12th win outside the PGA Tour and perhaps his biggest after his image was hit by allegations of several affairs and his subsequent divorce that dominated the news for much of 2010.
For Woods, it’s back to the driving range and the hope that he can make his mark at the upcoming World Golf Championships, starting Feb. 21.
”I know what I can do in the game and Sean and I are trying to get there,” Woods said.