Bjorn bows to Tiger's supremacy

Brian Keogh in Dubai

Tiger Woods had warm words for Rory McIlroy in his pre-tournament comments at The Emirates Club but unlike Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn, the 13-time major champion did not express any desire to be transfigured into the shape of an 18-year-old from Holywood, County Down.

Notwithstanding Ian Poulter’s claim in a British golf magazine that it "will be just me and Tiger" when he finally achieves his potential, most of this week’s field admits that they could well be playing for second place if Woods reproduces the kind of form that saw him demolish the field by eight strokes in the Buick Invitational last weekend.

Bidding for his seventh strokeplay victory in eight outings since the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational in August, Woods' aura is such that Bjorn wishes he was 18 years younger so he could know what it feels like to grow up in the Age of the Tiger.

"I would love to be Rory McIlroy right now, growing up with Tiger as the best in the world and have him to measure yourself against him," said Bjorn, who beat Woods down the stretch to win in Dubai in 2001. "People ask why we don't stand up to this guy. But we are simply not as good as he is.

"I don't think we have seen the best of him. That in itself is a pretty scary thought. He is the greatest sporting icon in the world and it is great for the game."

Asked about McIlroy in his pre-tournament press conference yesterday, Woods made it plain that he is well aware of the McIlroy phenomenon, explaining: "I met Rory yesterday in the charity challenge but we didn't spend a whole lot of time together as we were competing in different groups.

"He did impress me with what he did at the British Open last year and you can see he's got the talent the way he played at Carnoustie and how he held up.

"I haven't followed his career since he's turned pro but he's now out here and he's now a professional. And you know, it's just a matter of improving and maturing as a player."

McIlroy still has some way to go to catch Woods, who won the Target World Challenge by seven shots after a ten week lay-off just before Christmas and then came last week and won by eight strokes at Torrey Pines after spending another five weeks at home.

"Hopefully I can play well enough to win," he said, before reiterating his desire to win all four major championships this year.

"It’s about playing well at the right times," he said. "It’s about getting lucky, actually. You have to have everything go your way. You can play well and still not have it happen."

Bjorn is nicknamed "Frank" for a reason, warning: "It could be all over by Friday like it was at the Buick. You can't allow him to be five or six clear by the weekend because you won't catch up."

Colin Montgomerie and Swede Niclas Fasth will join Woods for the first two rounds with the Scottish veteran determined to use the experience to learn what he needs to do to beat the world number one.

"I am not going to beat Tiger Woods by hitting the ball any further than him," Montgomerie said. "I am not going to beat him by hitting my irons any better than him. I am not going to beat him chipping the ball any better than he does.

"And I am not going to beat him by holing any more putts than he does because he is good at that. I am not going to beat him physically and in fact, I will beat no one out here physically. I am not going to be him mentally. The only way I am going to beat Tiger Woods is playing like Colin Montgomerie."

Seven Irishmen are in the field this week but of that group, only Darren Clarke has managed to win an event with Woods in the field.

Sporting blisters on his hands after another long session with his coach Ewen Murray, Clarke said he couldn’t remember what he did to beat Woods in the 2000 Andersen Consulting World Matchplay final, "it was so long ago."

Meanwhile, Paul McGinley has opted to change his putter and his putting style in a bid to convert more birdie chances and begin his climb back up the world rankings after falling from 18th to 189th since his victory in the 2005 Volvo Masters.

"I'm hitting lots of fairways and greens and if I can putt a bit better, I am going to win," McGinley predicted. "I am just not hitting the putts the way I want. But I am working on that with (biomechanics coach) Paul Hurrion. I am changing my putting style and the way I read greens.

"I am working less on instinct and feel and working more on getting better fundamentals. Better basics. It is all about consistency."

Dubliner Peter Lawrie now searching for more sponsorship as well as his maiden tour win. While he is still the touring professional for Castleknock Golf and Country Club, that is the only logo on his shirt this week following the loss of three of his backers over the close season.