Kuala Lumpur: Thirteen years after a victorious maiden visit, American superstar Tiger Woods makes a long-awaited return to Malaysia where he will eye a winning debut at the US$6.1 million CIMB Classic.
The 14-time Major champion, the tournament’s top draw at the immaculate Mines Resort and Golf Club, has been the focus of attention since arriving in the Malaysian capital early Tuesday.
It is no surprise why Woods is the centre of attraction as the American won the World Cup of Golf in 1999 at the Mines Resort and subsequently dominated the game with his success in the Majors where he currently trails Jack Nicklaus for most career Major wins.
“Yeah, it’s great to be back. It’s been a long time. The golf course looks the same as it did 13 years ago, but some great memories from playing here. To be able to hold off the Spaniards and to be able win the World Cup, my first one was a lot of fun and having to do it with Mark (O’Meara) was even better,” said Woods.
“So it’s good to be back. It’s not cold outside, so it will be a nice test this week. The golf course is in good shape, even though it’s got a lot of rain on it. It’s very soft. A few mud balls out there. But overall, it’s pretty good.”
Woods, whose connection with the region is strong due to his part Thai parentage, has won titles in Thailand and Japan previously and adding the CIMB Classic title, an event sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour, will be his top priority this week.
“People probably sometimes forget that my mom was born here in Asia. So to me, coming home to Asia, it does feel like home because I’m very used to the culture. It’s how I was raised at home, and just I’ve enjoyed my time throughout the years that I’ve spent here in Asia,” said Woods after his morning pro-am session with Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak.
Under the tutelage of new swing coach Sean Foley, Woods has won three times on the PGA Tour this season but was not able to add his Major haul. “It’s a really good year, no doubt, but winning a Major championship just makes it a great year. The Majors are such a different animal and different breed and we place so much emphasis on them,” said Woods.
World number nine Jason Dufner will be hoping to turn a second place finish last week in Australia into a top finish at the Mines Resort as he bids for a third title of the year. After two days of sun shine, the Ryder Cup star reckons the heat and humidity would pose a big challenge to the PGA Tour players.
“Obviously, the heat and humidity can get to us a little bit. We’re not quite used to the temperatures and the humidity that we get here in Malaysia, so that could be a bit of a factor as far as endurance goes and just how you feel throughout the week,” said Dufner, who finished tied 10th here last year.
He rated the Mines Resort highly, especially with conditions being its best in three editions. “You’ve got a good mix of holes. So it tests all the clubs in your bag. You have to hit different tee shots, different iron shots, short clubs, long clubs,” he said.
Inaugural champion Ben Crane has enjoyed reconnecting with his Malaysian fans, whom he credited for helping him win in 2010. “It’s great to be back. This is a very special place to my family, and I’ve met a lot of friends here. It’s just really cool to be back. Lot of fond memories on this golf course, obviously. It’s something we look forward to every year,” said Crane.
Back from a back injury, he hopes to ride on his feel good factor and challenge for a second title at the CIMB Classic. “I’ve been sidelined for the last couple months with a back injury. I had an injury to one of my discs, so I haven’t played a lot. But did I play last week, and I feel very good about my game,” he said.