ABU DHABI, UAE January 30 – Tiger Woods was heading home to Florida with a mixed report card from his first foray into the 2012 golf season at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
But eyebrows were still raised by his inability to finish the job off when he was tied for a share of the lead going into the final round with 34-year-old Robert Rock, an Englishman ranked 117th in the world, whose sole tournament win in nine years came at last year’s Italian Open.
Woods, bidding to rebound after a year mired in injuries and personal scandal involving his married life, was upbeat.
“I’m pleased at the progress I’ve made so far,” he said of his work with new coach Sean Foley who has been helping him re-fashion his swing to accomodate the leg injuries that sidelined him for most of last year.
“Basically since Australia (in November), my stroke-play events have been pretty good.
“So I just need to keep building, keep getting more consistent and today was a day when I putted beautifully. Just didn’t give myself enough looks.”
© AFP Robert Rock’s sole tournament win in nine years came at last year’s Italian Open
© AFP Karim Sahib
The 36-year-old American has been characteristically circumspect during his season-opening week in the Gulf, with his private life strictly out of bounds and his targets for the year left deliberately vague.
But he has looked healthy and determined to continue his march back up the golfing ladder.
Having fallen outside the world top 50 due to his time on the injury sidelines, Woods had already moved up to 25th in the world rankings coming into Abu Dhabi and his performance here will nudge him back into the top 20.
Next up is his US season starter at Pebble Beach next month followed by the WGC Matchplay Championship in Arizona and the WGC Championship tournament at Doral in March.
That will lead him into what is his main priority – The Masters at Augusta National – in early April where he will be aiming to win a 15th major title, just three shy of matching Jack Nicklaus.
Most observers here agreed that Woods’ ball-striking is as sharp as it has been for some time, although his putting still seems less assured than it was in his glory days.
Both Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald said they had been impressed after playing with Woods in the first two rounds and Rock, a former golf pro who prides himself on his knowledge of the golf swing, said he too had liked what he had seen.
“He’s definitely playing better,” he said.
“Maybe he didn’t play as well as he would have liked to today, but his stats earlier in the week, his driving accracy was good, his greens in regulation was good and he was hitting the ball well. So there’s no doubt about that I think.”