DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Tiger Woods watched his
25-foot putt race down the slope and bend toward the cup, then he
skipped backward and punched the desert air in celebration when it
disappeared into the cup for a final birdie.
So ended his spectacular charge Sunday to win the Dubai Desert
Classic over Ernie Els, a familiar victim. Woods birdied his last
two holes, and five of his last seven, for a 7-under 65 to start
his season with two victories that looked nothing alike.
One week ago it was an eight-shot victory at the Buick Invitational.
The next week was his largest comeback in eight years when Woods
rallied from a four-shot deficit with an array of impressive shots
that make him look tougher to beat than he already is.
"I'm just happy to get a win out of this," Woods said.
It was the third time Woods has started his season 2-0, another
sign that he could be headed for a big year. He now has won his
last four official tournaments, and six of his last seven dating to
the Bridgestone Invitational in early August. Woods also won his
unofficial Target World Challenge by seven shots in December.
"It's the ideal start, isn't it?" Woods said. "You play to
win. So far, I've done that this year."
Woods finished at 14-under 274 for a one-shot victory over
Martin Kaymer of Germany. Woods had already posted his score when
Kaymer, who won two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, closed
birdie-birdie-eagle for a 66.
But the real victim was Els.
He started the final round with a one-shot lead over Henrik Stenson and was four shots clear of Woods. The 38-year-old South
African missed par putts inside 5 feet on the 11th and 12th holes
to lose the lead, but he still had a chance to force a playoff with
a birdie on the par-5 18th. Instead, Els hit 5-wood that came up
well short and ended up in the water.
He finished with a bogey for a 71 and tied for third with Louis
It was a devastating blow to Els, who stared at the ground as he
walked toward the 18th green. He is in the middle of a three-year
plan to overtake Woods at No. 1 in the world, and said at the start
of his season that he needed to start winning.
This was the perfect occasion, and he let it slip away in
familiar fashion. Two years ago at Dubai, Woods birdied the last
two holes to force a playoff against Els, then beat him when the
South African hit his second shot into the water on No. 18.
This one never had a chance.
"The second shot on the 18, it was right where I had it, but I
could see the gust got it in the air and it didn't have much of a
chance in the end there," Els said.
Reaching No. 1 now looks like a lost cause.
Woods has more than double the points over second-ranked Phil Mickelson, and when asked about the gap over Mickelson, Woods
playfully said, "I thought Ian Poulter was No. 2?"
That was a reference to Poulter being quoted in a British
magazine that he was the only one capable of challenging the
world's No. 1 player. Poulter closed with a 76 on Sunday and tied
It was the largest comeback for Woods since he made up a
five-shot deficit at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2000,
a final round that included holing out from the 15th fairway.
This was almost as impressive. Woods lost momentum with bogeys
on the sixth and ninth holes, but he poured it on along the back
nine with six birdies to win Dubai for the second time.
"All of sudden I was in the mix, out of the mix," Woods said.
It started with a chip-in for birdie from a thick lie in the
rough. Then came a tough flop shot from a tight lie, a bunker
between Woods and the hole, that he caught perfectly to about 5
feet for birdie on the 13th.
"I thought I had to shoot 30 to get into a playoff," said
Woods, who shot 31 on the back nine. "It just happened to be good
Woods hit a perfect drive on the 359-yard 17th to just left of
the green, leaving him a good angle for a chip that he hit to 8
feet for birdie. Then came the 18th, when Woods thought his 5-wood
for a second shot was perfect.
It went long, just short of the bunker, leaving Woods an awkward
chip down the slope, with water on the other side.
"I could easily chip the ball in the water," Woods said. "You
have to make your mistake short and if I leave it too short, just
chip up and try to make a par and [I'm] probably not going to win
the tournament, but see what happens."
He came up short, but holed the 25-foot birdie putt that turned
out to be good enough.
Woods also won his first two events of the season in 2000 and
2006. In both those years, Els was among his early victims.
He now has won 72 times worldwide in his career, 62 of those on
the PGA Tour. A week ago at Torrey Pines, Woods won by at least
eight shots for the ninth time in his career. This was much
tighter, and Woods made no secret which one he prefers.
"I like [winning] by seven or eight a lot," he said. "It's a
lot less stressful."
Woods has until Friday to decide whether he will play the
Northern Trust Open at Riviera, although he likely will not return
until the Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona, which
begins Feb. 20.