DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Two tournaments, two
continents, two playoff victories.
Tiger Woods' year is off to a perfect start.
Two shots behind with two holes to play, Woods drove the green
on the 359-yard 17th hole to set up a birdie-birdie finish that got
him into a playoff, where he defeated Ernie Els on the first extra
hole Sunday to win the Dubai Desert Classic.
"I couldn't ask for anything more than that," said Woods, who
hasn't started a season with two victories since his record-setting
year in 2000. "Two playoffs, too. Very stressful, but I was
somehow able to come out on top. I was very fortunate today."
It was similar to last week in San Diego, where Woods birdied
the final hole to get into a playoff at the Buick Invitational and
won with pars when his opponents made mistakes.
Els also birdied the last hole with a 6-foot putt. But on the
par-5 18th hole in the playoff, he pulled his tee shot into the
sandy grove of palms, and his approach came up about a yard short
into the water. He took a drop and pitched 20 feet beyond the hole,
missing his par putt.
Woods, who went just over the back of the green in the playoff,
chipped to 6 feet and two-putted for par.
"I had a two-way miss going," Woods said. "I could hit it
right or left at any given time, and that's not a whole lot of fun.
Somehow I just hung in there with my short game and hit some very
good shots on the back nine."
Woods closed with a 3-under 69, finishing with a birdie from
behind the 18th green in regulation to join Els at 19-under 269.
Richard Green of Australia birdied four of five holes down the
stretch to take the lead, but he drove into a plugged lie in the
sandy palm grove and took bogey on the 18th.
Els shot 5-under 67, but the ending was all too familiar. It was
the third time he has lost in a playoff to Woods, and the seventh
time the 36-year-old South African has finished second to Woods.
"I cannot complain," said Els, who is coming back from knee
surgery last year. "After all the hassle I had with the leg to
come back ... and to almost win is fine."
Despite spraying tee shots across the Emirates Golf Club, Woods
stayed close to the lead. The key hole might have been the 14th,
where his drive landed in a rocky bank surrounding a pond. He
managed to chip out into the rough, then made a 20-foot putt to
save par and stay within two shots of Els.
"It was hit and hope, really," Woods said. "I tried to get
the ball up over that little piece of rock because if it hit it
could ricochet easily right back into the water."
Still, he was two shots behind Green when he got to the 17th.
Woods' drive hopped onto the green about 40 feet behind the hole
for a two-putt birdie. From the middle of the 18th fairway, he saw
Els make birdie to get to 19 under, then hit a 5-wood just through
the green for an up-and-down birdie.
"I figured 19 [under] would either win the tournament outright
or be in a playoff," Woods said. "I had to birdie the last two
holes somehow. I had to take the chance of hitting driver [on No.
17] and put the ball anywhere up there where I could make birdie.
It ended up as good as you could like."
Woods' victory on the tip of the Arabian peninsula was his 57th
worldwide -- 47 of them on the PGA Tour. It also makes 10 countries
in which he's won an official tournament. Along with the United
States and United Arab Emirates, he has won in Thailand, Germany,
Spain, Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Japan and Malaysia.
Green was poised to win until his tee shot on the 18th went into
the grove and his second shot struck a palm and landed at the base,
leaving him no choice but to punch out. He wound up with a 68 to
It was a small measure of redemption for Woods, who blew a
chance to win in Dubai five years ago. Tied with Thomas Bjorn on
the 18th hole, Woods hit into the water and made a double bogey,
one of only five times in his career he has failed to win with at
least a share of the 54-hole lead.
Woods has said the 18th hole does not set up well for him, but
he came through twice in a span of 20 minutes.
After winning the Buick Invitational, Woods flew 20 hours across
12 time zones to reach Dubai. He received a $3 million appearance
fee, earned $400,000 for the victory and received the trophy -- a
3-foot Arabic coffer urn -- from Sheik Maktoum bin Mohamed bin
Rashid, the son of Dubai's ruler.
He will open the Tiger Woods Learning Center on Friday in
Anaheim, Calif., then play the Nissan Open at Riviera. Woods will
play five more times before his first big test at the Masters,
where he is the defending champion.
"My list of things I need to work on is a lot shorter than it
was last year at this time, which is great," Woods said. "So
looking toward Augusta, I don't have a big laundry list of things I
need to work on. I just need to refine things and hope I get dialed
It may not look pretty at times, but so far the results are