Brian Keogh in Miami
Tiger Woods bows to no man - not even Tiger Woods.
After a start to the season that has seen teenagers such as Rory McIlroy, Ryo Ishikawa and Danny Lee touted as possible successors to the world’s most dominant player, the man himself has only to look in the mirror to see his biggest challenger staring coldly back at him.
His mind-boggling haul of 14 “majors” and 15 wins from just 28 World Golf Championship starts might be enough to scare any mortal. But despite the fact that he hasn’t played a strokeplay event since his incredible, one-legged US Open victory at Torrey Pines nine months ago, he says he’s here to win.
“I'm ready to win, yeah,” Woods said, flashing yards if teeth. “That's why I'm here. It feels good to be back here. This golf course is playing just in great shape right now. The greens are perfect and the fairways are great. It was fun to get back out there, get a practice round under my belt and get ready for tomorrow."
The bookmakers have installed Woods as the 10-3 favourite ahead of defending champion Geoff Ogilvy and while he showed signs in his comeback from an eight month injury lay-off in Tucson that he is not quite 100 percent, his record at Doral’s Blue Monster lay-out brooks no argument.
The 33-year-old American is gunning to win this title for the seventh time on a course where he already has three wins and three top ten finishes from just six starts.
Asked why, he said: “Maybe it's just, certain golf courses just fit your eye. I've had some success in certain places. You know, one being Torrey Pines, here, Firestone, Augusta I've won multiple times; Bay Hill. Certain golf courses just fit your eye. This golf course, ever since I played here in '98 for the first time, it just fit my eye. Even after the re‑design, it still fit my eye.
“Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes re‑designs may throw it off. For instance, Torrey Pines didn't when they re‑designed that golf course. I still felt the set lines were great. But this golf course has just always fit my eye.”
That sounds like bad news then for the other 79 players in this elite field and Woods has no problem living up to his own high expectations, appearing unconcerned about how his performance will be picked apart by the world’s media as he counts down to the Masters in four weeks’ time.
Asked how it felt to be compared with himself pre-surgery, just as the youngsters have been compared to him in recent months, Woods said: “It's nice in the sense that, you know, players are compared to what I've done at an early age. And as far as comparisons with pre‑ and post‑surgery, well, I've had four of them, so pick which one you want.”
Woods played a dawn practice round with Mike Weir yesterday and it is an indication of just how much he means to the PGA Tour that a huge gallery followed him in the misty morning sun.
And while he lost to South African Tim Clark in the second round of the Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago, Woods insisted that his left knee has held up even better than he expected following surgery.
"I thought I would be a little more sore but recovery from day to day has been great,” he said. “It couldn't have been more positive, except for getting beat in the second round. But from a physical standpoint, it was better than I thought.”
Like Padraig Harrington, who is looking for some form as he builds up to Augusta, Woods is simply looking forward to getting four rounds under his belt before he assesses where he is with his game.
“I'll have a better idea when the tournament is done,” he said. "I just need rounds under my belt and this week will be a very positive week for me. Four rounds and no cut, which is exactly what I need.”
McIlroy is rated joint fifth favourite at 30-1 to win his first PGA Tour title this week alongside the likes of Paul Casey, Ernie Els, Zach Johnson and Anthony Kim.
But Casey does not believe that the Irish teenager will be taking over from Woods as world number one anytime soon, despite his undoubted quality.
“Rory's got it all. But time will tell if he can get to number one in the world,” Casey said. “He swings it beautifully. He's got the temperament, he's got the work ethic. It is all there.
“But there are a lot of guys you need to go through to get to that spot and while Tiger's around that's a very difficult task. Tiger's not going anywhere until he gets his 18 majors or more - 20, 21, who knows where he's going to end up.”
Woods is standing aside for no man. Not McIlroy. Not even himself.
Brian Keogh in Miami