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Explosion, implosion, but is Tiger finished?

A lot can happen in 25 years.

Tiger Woods's failure at Torrey Pines has been poured over by the golfing media. Picture: Reuters
Tiger Woods's failure at Torrey Pines has been poured over by the golfing media. Picture: Reuters

Take Dubai for, instance. A quarter of a century ago, those intrepid players competing in the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic serenely swooshed away in the middle of a golfing oasis with hardly anything but sand and sea to gaze at as they quietly mulled over a missed three-footer. These days, the Majlis course sits in the overwhelming midst of the monuments of excessive, architectural whimsy. Look up there; a skyscraper that could tickle the outer rings of Saturn. Peer over there; a six-star hotel that resembles a steel and glass croissant. Gawp out there; a shimmering, man-made archipelago that looks like a giant imitation of one of Liberace's lavish candelabras.

In that same year of 1989, when Dubai was dipping its toe in the waters of tournament golf and preparing for an eye-watering expansion, a teenage Tiger Woods was winning the fourth of his five World Junior titles.

Both Dubai and Woods have exploded in the years that have followed. Woods even managed an implosion in 2009, when the skeletons of his private left started to come rattling out of the closet.

In the same year, Dubai's real estate market plunged after a seemingly endless boom. Coincidence? Of course, not.

That is just a very tenuous link but, in better times, there is no denying that the pair have been good for each other down the seasons.

The world No.1, his back pocket left bulging by a hefty appearance fee, has won twice at the Emirates club in 2006 and 2008. Dubai, meanwhile, gets to wallow in all the attention that comes its way when the Tiger bandwagon rolls into town.

We may be only 30 days into 2014, but, as he returns to the Gulf, Woods' game is already under the kind of detailed examination you would usually get with an MRI scan.

His ghastly 79 during the defence of last weekend's Farmers Insurance Open at one of his favourite haunts, Torrey Pines, was something of a train wreck. Even the driver himself admitted he could not loup from the footplate as it hurtled towards golfing calamity. "It was just one of those days that happen and it became a train I just couldn't get off," spluttered Woods.

Like accident investigators rifling through the wreckage, the golfing media have been relentless in their rummaging. As usual, opinion was divided into two camps that were as far apart as the splayed legs of a giraffe on skating rink. On the one hand, it was a brief aberration; a rusty detour during his first event of 2014 that really was nothing to get in a fankle about. On the other, it was a sign that Woods, toiling with a short backswing that one commentator suggested was like that of a "55-year-old man", is in terminal decline.

While the chattering classes have a field day, Woods himself will not be pressing any panic buttons. Last year, he missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and rebounded in style by winning at Torrey Pines the following week.

In something of a reversal of fortunes, what are the chances of him whipping up a desert storm in Dubai? "I came out here [to Dubai] and just wanted to improve every day," he said ahead of today's opening round. "Tuesday was better than Monday, and Wednesday was better than Tuesday. Hopefully Thursday will be even better."

With three of this year's four majors being played at venues where he has triumphed before - the Masters at Augusta, the Open at Hoylake and the US PGA at Valhalla - Woods has plenty of cause for optimism. The doubters, of course, always need a bit more convincing.

We all got used to Woods exerting unwavering dominance. Yes, he can still conjure plenty of moments of brilliance and the fact that he won five times last season, more than any other leading global campaigner, should not be underestimated.

But bringing this all-conquering, heavy artillery to bear every time he tees-up is beyond even him. "I've played at a high level for a very long time, but it's not easy to do," said the 14-time major winner.

Woods is 38 years old, there are the lingering aches and pains of four knee surgeries and there are the increasing flaws and frustrations which can all lead to erraticism.

Every golfer has off days. It seems that Woods is having more of them than he once did.

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