Woods bemused by AussiesBy: IAN RANSOM
MELBOURNE – Thousands of fans and a media circus worthy of a head of state greeted Tiger Woods at Melbourne’s Kingston Heath golf club on Tuesday, as the world number one made his first visit to Australia in 11 years.
Woods, who arrived by private jet in Melbourne on Monday, tuned up for this week’s A$1.5 million dollars (US$1.40 million) Masters with a nine-hole practice round in front of throngs of spectators and a low-flying helicopter scanning his every move.
‘No, (the reception) is not normal. Thank God it’s not normal,’ the 14-time major champion told reporters. ‘You don’t normally see this many people at a practice round, certainly, maybe at a major championship.’
Woods’s first tournament in Australia since the 1998 President’s Cup in Melbourne, has been seen as a watershed for a tour that has struggled to provide purses and appearance fees large enough to attract golf’s biggest names.
The state government of Victoria, which local media have reported paid half of Woods’ $3 million appearance fee, had branded his appearance a coup and said the visit would generate an economic benefit of A$19 million.
Woods’s delay in heading back to Australia was a matter of ‘timing’ rather than financial incentives, the 33-year old said.
‘There are so many golf tournaments to play all around the world. I just haven’t got down here,’ he said.
‘You don’t get a chance to play in venues like this and it is really a treat to play the sand-belt golf courses.
‘You have so many different options. You have to be able to shape the ball around the golf course. You have to be able to think.
‘It’s one of the reasons I love playing links golf. It’s the same, the only difference here is well, it’s hot as hell.’
Woods will vie for a first victory on Australian soil with former US Open champion Geoff Ogilvy among a strong local contingent for a winner’s cheque worth less than a tenth of his appearance fee.
He comes off a disappointing finish at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where a horror front nine on Sunday left him five strokes behind fellow American Phil Mickelson in joint sixth.
Although he will finish 2009 without a major, Woods was already looking forward to an injury-free 2010, with the knee that sidelined him for eight months before his comeback earlier this year feeling the best it had in ‘more than a decade’.
‘As the year progressed, I made changes in my swing because obviously my knee was getting better and better and I could do different things,’ said Woods, who recorded six victories on the US PGA Tour.
‘I’m really looking forward to next year... to come off what I came off last year and had the year that I had this year, I don’t think anyone would have suspected that.’