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Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Tiger Woods focused on Dubai

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Seeing "snow'' on his scorecard, as much as it ultimately didn't matter, was something Tiger Woods very much wanted to avoid in his last competitive round.

The reference was to a snowman, or the number "8'' -- as in shooting in the 80s, which Woods appeared to be on his way to doing Saturday during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods carded a 71 in the Former Champions Challenge in Dubai on Tuesday.

But he chipped in for a par at the penultimate hole before holing a 10-foot par putt at the last to avoid shooting in the 80s for just the second time as a professional.

"At the end of the day, I wanted to shoot the lowest score I could,'' Woods said Wednesday during the pro-am at Emirates Golf Club, where he begins play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday. "I wasn't going to make the cut anyway, but I was trying hard to shoot as low as I could, and 79 was the best I could do.''

Woods missed the secondary cut at Torrey Pines that was made after 54 holes due to the size of the field. At one point, Woods played a seven-hole stretch in 9-over, with two double-bogeys.

In his 18-year career as a pro, it was just the fifth time he had shot 79 or worse. And his 81 is almost universally dismissed because it came in horrific conditions at the 2002 Open Championship, where Woods was trying for his third straight major title.

Woods, ranked No. 1 in the world, went home to Florida for one day, then traveled to the Middle East, where he shot a 71 on Tuesday in a Champions Challenge event staged Tuesday to celebrate the Dubai Desert Classic's 25th anniversary. This is the seventh time Woods will play in the European Tour event.

Wednesday's pro-am, played in front of just a few dozen people, appeared to be a leisurely stroll on a course where Woods has won twice. But he also was in better control, as he missed just two fairways.

"I hit it a lot better today, which was nice,'' Woods said. "I feel like I even putted a lot better, too. That was the whole idea. I made a few changes a little bit last night and felt pretty good about what I was doing out there today.''

Although Woods said he expected no lingering effects from the 79 at Torrey Pines, he did suggest he understands why it received so much attention: because he's done it so rarely.

Other than the 81 at Muirfield, he now has recorded a score of 79 four times -- three coming in the last four years.

A number that scores of amateur players can relate to trying to shoot, Woods, amazingly, said he doesn't remember the first time he broke 80.

"The milestone for me was beating my dad for the first time,'' Woods said of his late father, Earl, who was a 1-handicap when Woods was growing up. "I wasn't focused so much on score back then, but my dad did this neat thing where he would make up a par for me based on what he thought it should be.

"So a par-5 might be a par-9 for me. And that's how I played. And whenever I got there, he'd change it on me. That upset me, but it was his way of challenging me.''

And the first time he beat his dad?

"I was 11 years old,'' he said. "That was big. I remember playing those last two holes like it was yesterday. I shot 71. And he didn't want to give it up. He didn't make it easy.''

If anything, Woods showed last week how difficult the game can be, even for him. Even sparingly.

But Woods doesn't expect it to linger in Dubai, where he won in 2006 and '08.

"I practiced Monday, and I was better on Tuesday than I was Monday and better on Wednesday than I was Tuesday,'' he said. "Hopefully tomorrow that trend continues.''

Woods is grouped for the first two rounds with Rory McIlroy and Scotland's Stephen Gallacher, the tournament's defending champion. They begin play off the 10th tee at 8:05 a.m. local time (11:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday).