Tiger Ditches Torrey for Abu Dhabi
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger headed for the desert

News hit the wires early this morning that Tiger Woods will make his 2012 debut at the Abu Dhabi Championship held Jan. 26-29, according to tournament organizers. What’s the catch? Well, it conflicts with his regular season-opener, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where Tiger’s obviously had some success.

The move is just another example of the growing trend where golfers are basically mercenaries chasing seven-digit appearance fees across the world. I mean, I understand, but is there no loyalty or sentimentality anymore? Obviously not. Duh.

Unfortunately, without Tiger in the field at Torrey, the event will lose quite a bit of buzz with many of the world’s best competing on the other side of the world.

Tiger has swapped out his regular Middle East appearance, the Dubai Desert Classic, where he went for years, including in 2011 (he skipped 2010 because of his sex scandal and 2009 because he was still recovering from knee surgery).

Interestingly enough, it seems the Abu Dhabi deal has been in the works for months. Tournament directors were already confident they could lure Tiger to the event since his deal with Dubai expired, according to an Arabian Business article dated July 4, 2011:

The former world No.1 golfer’s exclusive contract with golf in Dubai has now expired and the general manager of Abu Dhabi Golf Club (ADGC) Ken Kosak told Middle East Golfer magazine he was confident of securing Woods’ participation in the 2012 Abu Dhabi Golf Championship.

“I think there is a strong possibility you will see Tiger” Kosak said. “Our championship could benefit from Tiger and Tiger could benefit from the championship. Bringing Tiger here is an opportunity. We would love to see him play in Abu Dhabi.”

The controversial golfer still has strong links with the UAE and earlier this year Arabian Business revealed Woods received $55.4m in 2008 from UAE developer Tatweer to promote a golf resort in Dubai. Work on the $1.1bn Tiger Woods Dubai project has since been suspended, with any new restart date yet to announced.

Snagging Tiger is seen “as a coup for Abu Dhabi in its rivalry with the Dubai Desert Classic,” according to one newswire report. “Tournament manager Faisal al-Sheikh boasted that the “giants of golf” are coming to Abu Dhabi.”

Indeed they are.

The Abu Dhabi tournament will boast a strong field that includes world No. 1 Luke Donald and defending champion Martin Kaymer, along with three of this year’s major winners — Masters champ Charl Schwartzel, U.S. Open champ Rory McIlroy and British Open champ Darren Clarke. Former No. 1 (current No. 3) Lee Westwood, Jason Day, K.J. Choi, among others, will also play in the event, and organizers say to expect more marquee names that have yet to be announced.

“I’ve heard a lot about Abu Dhabi and the Championship which is a favorite among many of the players who return each year,” Woods said  in a statement. “I’m looking forward to 2012 and what I hope will be a great year of golf for me. I’ve always enjoyed playing in HSBC events around the world, so I have been interested in including the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in my schedule for some time. I am also intrigued to spend time in Abu Dhabi. Visiting new places is one of the things I really enjoy about being a professional golfer.”

Or he’s just following the money — and many in the same position would do the same. After all, most of the top-ranked players are playing in the first-rate field, which means there will be more world ranking points up for grabs (and, as we know, the world No. 50 needs).

Still, I can’t help but sympathize with Torrey.