Tiger to end sabbatical with shot at Asia's richest golf tournament
SHANGHAI, China (AP) - After a five-week breather, Tiger Woods is eager to begin part one of his four-point plan for the end of 2006: extending his sequence to eight straight victories in stroke play events.
His main challengers at the HSBC Champions tournament are comparatively travel weary. Many have had only two weeks between the end of the last European Tour season and the start of the next - this co-sanctioned US$5 million (?3.9 million) at the Sheshan International Golf Club.
Tiger Woods has not played since winning the WGC-American Express Championship on Oct. 1, skipping the U.S. PGA season-ending Tour Championship last week in favor of recharging himself for 2007 after a tumultuous year.
He said he's feeling relaxed and raring to go, aiming for wins here, next week in Japan, at the two-day Grand Slam in Hawaii and the Dec. 14-17 Target World Challenge.
Tiger Woods, runner-up to England's David Howell at this event last November, is grouped for the first two rounds with HSBC World Match Play champion Paul Casey and India's Jeev Milkha Singh, who won the European Tour's season-ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama on Oct. 29.
Padraig Harrington finished a stroke behind Singh at Valderrama to clinch the European Tour's 2006 Order of Merit and will start his defense of that title here.
He is grouped with New Zealander Michael Campbell and China's Zhang Lianwei, while Howell will start with Retief Goosen and South Korea's KJ Choi.
Harrington said he was confident he'll start the new European season the way he left off the last.
"I have been in good form, and I'm very comfortable with my form coming into this event," he said. "I do find this golf course difficult, so we'll have to wait and see - I hope everybody else finds it difficult!
"If I putt well and I have been playing good enough golf, yes, I can win."
Harrington said he'd have preferred a little more time to savor his 2006 triumph, but is happy to get back into competition quickly.
"Everybody else is raring to get going for the next year," he said. "I suppose it would be nice to hold the title for a little longer period of time. It only effects one person so it's not a big deal."
The HSBC Champions is jointly sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour, South Africa's Sunshine Tour, the PGA Tour of Australasia and the China Golf Association, giving a broad range of players access to the prize money in Asia's richest tournament.
As well as Tiger Woods and No. 2-ranked Jim Furyk, the field includes eight players ranked in the world top 15.
For India's Singh, the Asian Tour's No. 1, the competition here is more important than the cash.
"I'm obviously really excited to be paired with Tiger Woods. It's going to be the first time for me that I'm going to play with him and hopefully I can learn something and see how he manages the golf course," he said.
"I think it's a reward that I'm playing with Tiger Woods with the performances that I've had this year. It's going to be an experience for me. I have a lot of respect for him because I think he's done a lot for the game of golf worldwide."
Singh turned his career around in April when he clinched the China Open to end a seven-year winless streak.
Now, after winning at Valderrama, he's full of confidence and targeting invitations to the majors.
"I was pretty excited with the win. Obviously, playing the flagship tournament in Europe and winning it, it gives a player a lot of confidence and I think a lot of satisfaction too."