Woods looking for strong start in Abu Dhabi

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ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - Healthier than he has been in nearly a decade, Tiger Woods comes into the 2012 season full of confidence and said Tuesday that he is hoping his strong showing at the end of 2011 will carry over into this week’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

Woods ended 2011 with his first victory in two years at the Chevron World Challenge and said Tuesday he is looking to pick more than that one win this year. His Chevron victory moved him up to 25th on the world rankings after he fell out of the top 50 last year.

“Actually, it’s been quite a few years since I’ve been physically fit,” said Woods, who estimated it had been at least eight years since he wasn’t dealing with an injury. “So I’m looking forward to getting out there and then playing and give it a full season, which I haven’t done in a while, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Woods opens his season in Abu Dhabi for the first time and will compete against a star-studded lineup that includes U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Luke Donald, defending champion Martin Kaymer and second-ranked Lee Westwood.

“I’m looking forward to this year,” Woods said. “That’s something that I have to say, because I was able to prepare and get fit enough to prepare last year and towards the end of the year. I demonstrated to myself what I can do with implementing what (coach Sean Foley) wants me to do on the golf swing.”

Woods took part in a traditional Emirati ayala dance earlier in the day with Westwood and McIlroy, and was in good spirits for most of the news conference. But he appeared slightly agitated when the questions turned to a book written by Hank Haney, who was Woods’ swing coach for six years.

The book due out in March chronicles the time Haney began working with Woods at the Bay Hill Invitational in 2004 until they parted ways a month after the 2010 Masters, where Woods made his return to golf after being exposed for multiple extramarital affairs that shattered his image and led to divorce.

Woods said he was unhappy that those he had worked with, including Haney and former caddie Steve Williams, who had spoken out.

“Certainly it’s something that I have to deal with. I get asked at press conferences what these guys have done, and that’s just part of it,” he said. “Am I disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Certainly, because I have to answer the questions. … So I’ve answered them and I guess I’ll have to continue doing it. Hopefully, this will come to an end.”

After missing much of 2011 with injuries, Woods said he finally was “healthy enough to practice” toward the end of the season and it paid off.

He finished third at the Australian Open, and then delivered the clinching point for the American team in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne before winning the Chevron.

“I think Australia was pretty big for me to go down there for two weeks and play in that type of wind, and to hit the ball as well as I did, I really controlled my golf ball for two weeks, and you know, I think that led to what I did at the World Challenge,” Woods said. “I hit the ball just as well there, and made a couple of putts, and especially on the last two holes there. You know, consequently, got a W.”

The 14-time major winner would only say his goal this year is to win more than he had last year and was hopeful one of those victories would be another major. He is four short of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.

“The game plan is still the same. Every event I play in is to try and win,” Woods said. “That’s what’s going to hold me back is obviously if I don’t play well, and there’s also going to be 155 other guys in the field that are going to have a chance, as well. There’s a number of factors, and that’s what makes golf so interesting; that it is very difficult to win golf tournaments. And to do it consistently over a long period of time, it’s not easy to do.”

Woods has traded Torrey Pines for Abu Dhabi this year and admitted his scheduling decisions are influenced by the appearances fees he is offered. Unlike the PGA Tour, the European Tour allows for appearance fees, which can reach into the millions of dollars for the top stars.

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