ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Tiger Woods says he’s starting a season healthy for the first time in at least eight years.
“It’s been quite a few years since I’ve been physically fit,” Woods said on Tuesday in his first appearance at the Abu Dhabi Championship.
“So I’m looking forward to getting out there and giving it a full season, which I haven’t done in a while.”
Woods’ confidence got a boost when he ended 2011 by winning his Chevron World Challenge in December for his first title in more than two years.
He’s hoping to pick up where he left off against a tough field that includes top-ranked Luke Donald, second-ranked Lee Westwood, defending champion Martin Kaymer and U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.
“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 traditional Emirati ayala dancing 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, his 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 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, 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 last 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. With the win, Woods moved up to 25th in the world after falling outside the top 50 last year.
“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 was 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.
Woods has switched his season-opener from San Diego to Abu Dhabi this year and acknowledged his scheduling decisions are influenced by the appearances fees he’s offered. Woods refused to say how much he was getting at Abu Dhabi, but unlike the U.S. PGA Tour, the European Tour allows for appearance fees which can reach into the millions of dollars.
“You know, I’d have to say yes, it certainly does,” he said on the influence of appearance fees. “That’s one of the reasons why a lot of the guys who play in Europe, they do play in Europe, and they do get paid. I think the only tour that doesn’t pay is the U.S. tour. But, you know, a lot of the guys play all around the world and they do get appearance fees.”
Woods praised Donald, calling his winning the money titles on the U.S. and European Tours last season a “heck of an achievement.” But he saved his highest praise for the great Seve Ballesteros, who died in May following a three-year battle with a brain tumor.
Woods said the five-time major winner was the most talented golfer he ever played alongside.
“Never seen a person do the things with the golf ball that he was able to do and the creativeness that he was able to do,” Woods said. “To me, he certainly had the most talent that I had ever seen in person. I never saw (Ben) Hogan hit a golf ball. Never saw (Byron) Nelson hit a golf ball. I never saw Jack in his prime. But I did see Seve when I first came out here, and I was able to play with him a few times; it was impressive.”