Brian Keogh in Dubai
Tiger Woods carded his 12th consecutive sub-par round - a bogey free, seven under par 65 - to take a two-stroke lead over a posse of 11 players in the Dubai Desert Classic.
On a perfect day for golf in the skyscraper festooned emirate, Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Gary Murphy played magnificently to finish in that chasing bunch alongside the likes of Miguel Angel Jimenez and “Rookie of the Year” Martin Kaymer.
But the latest recital by the world number one was drowned out by the noise made by England’s Ian Poulter, who signed for a 70 before launching an impassioned defence of his character following his controversial comments in the UK edition of Golf World magazine.
After appearing naked on the cover, his modesty covered by a golf bag, Poulter was quoted as saying that he felt he was the only player capable of competing with Woods.
"I just don't rate anyone else," Poulter is alleged to have said. "Don't get me wrong, I respect everyone who is a professional. But the problem is I know I haven't played to my full potential. And when that happens it will just be me and Tiger."
Poulter, who is ranked 22nd in the world, now claims that he was misquoted by the magazine and that his words were taken out of context.
“The press do want to do that and you’re left with an unfortunate situation with egg on your face,” he said after his round. “And I think it’s very sad when it was answered respectfully and honestly.”
Poulter went on to clear up any doubt about what he really meant to say, though he felt “humiliated” by the criticism he received in the British media earlier this week and said it affected his play yesterday.
Explaining his position, Poulter said: “Can I get to number one in the world? No, I can’t really, not while Tiger is playing golf. Can I get to No 2? Yeah. Justin (Rose) has moved up so far in the world rankings last year, if he has the same year this year, there’s a chance of him taking the No 2 spot.
“If people do play well over a period of two years, you can get to No 2. You can’t reach Tiger. So the quote is: It would be a dream to see Tiger Woods and then me in the world rankings as you look down. What’s wrong with that? Is it being rude? It is being disrespectful to everybody else? I don’t think so.”
While Poulter has had to deal with teasing phone calls from his peers, he found an ally in Ireland’s Paul McGinley.
Poulter explained: “McGinley laughed about it. He said: ‘I know how you’ve explained it and I see exactly what you’ve said. Many other people don’t.”
Woods smiled when asked about the issue in his post round press conference and said: “Well I guess he’s No 2 in the world, so he’s moved up the rankings pretty quickly.”
Given Woods’ performance in yesterday’s opening round, the question of who is going to be second has special relevance.
Side bets were already being made on the American’s margin of victory following his eight-shot margin in San Diego last Sunday.
On the evidence of his play yesterday, he will take some catching. With a stroke average of 67.58 for his last 12 rounds, Woods purred round the Majlis Course at the Emirates like a well-oiled Rolls Royce and outscored his playing partners Niclas Fasth and Colin Montgomerie by seven shots.
“It’s like watching Manchester United play Derby,” quipped an English colleague as the gulf between Woods and Montgomerie became ever more evident as the round progressed.
The Scot stressed before the start that he wants to use his first two rounds with Woods to learn what he has to do to improve. Yet while it was nil-nil at halftime as they played the back nine in three under par 34, Woods won the second half 7-nil.
Starting at the par-five 10th, Woods chipped stone dead from short of the green and picked up two more shots by the turn before turning it on over the more difficult front nine.
A birdie at the first put him four under par and when he rifled a gorgeous seven iron to two feet at the par-three fourth, it took a 40 footer from Montgomerie to remain within a shot of the master on four under.
The Scot double bogeyed two of his last four holes, however, as Woods birdied the seventh and eighth to take the lead.
Ominously, he said he felt he had hit the ball even better than he had in Torrey Pines last week. In fact, he could have gone a lot lower.
“I am definitely playing better than last week," Woods said, before adding: “I definitely missed a few (putts) today. I had a couple of good opportunities and just kind of ran them over the edge.
"But overall I couldn't ask for a better start. I hit the ball a lot more clean today and shaped the ball better."
Germany’s great new hope Kaymer, threatened to catch Woods when he got to six under par with one to play but found water at the 18th to drop a stroke and finish in an 11-man tie for second with Ireland’s Murphy and McDowell, Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, England’s Simon Dyson, Indian duo Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh, Swede Pelle Edberg, Frenchman Thomas Levet, South African Andrew McLardy and Australian Scott Hend.