Jan
28
2012
Abu Dhabi Championship: Now This Is Interesting
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Tiger Woods: needs just another manic Sunday.

I doubt Robert Rock will sleep soundly tonight.

The Englishman shot 66 on Saturday at the Abu Dhabi Championship, a score more than deserving of a place at the head of proceedings. At 11-under-par for the tournament, with a two-shot buffer over the chasing pack, the formerly fragile veteran is within touching distance of his second European Tour victory.

Cause enough for tossing and/or turning, one might think, but Rock’s plight is complicated by the overbearing presence of his co-leader, the player regarded by many as the greatest of all-time.

Like his partner at the summit of the leaderboard, Tiger Woods negotiated Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s 7,600 yards in 66 shots today, but his round – a pristine, eighteen-hole sequence of pars and birdies – was unquestionably the more significant of the two.

Not just for the ball-striking and strategic nous of its architect, though both were breathtaking, but for knowledge that it was crafted in spite not because of his recent experiences.

If Woods returns to something approaching his best form – many will argue he already has, and tomorrow he has an opportunity to claim a second victory in as many starts – it would surely, given the magnitude of his recent humiliations, merit consideration alongside the sport’s grandest human triumphs: a comeback worthy of Hogan’s determination, if not his asceticism and fidelity.

Though it’s tempting to think of Woods and Rock as a pair of outliers, an odd couple alone with their separate aspirations and hopes for the tournament, the reality is that they’ll spend tomorrow afternoon in the company of Peter Hanson (64).

The earliest third-round starter among those to finish at nine-under-par, the Swede graduates to the final group ahead of Francesco Molinari (66), Paul Lawrie (68) and the man considered Woods’ most significant (only?) threat, the US Open champion Rory McIlroy (68).

Less erratic on Saturday, the Northerner may yet rue his error-strewn second round. But for an ounce of restraint, of subtlety, he could have avoided ceding so much ground to a man renowned for his ruthlessness as a front-runner.

Conor Nagle