Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in desert dust-up
Tiger Woods will tee off with the two players ahead of him on the world rankings — Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer — in the first two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic tomorrow and Friday.
It is the first time since 1994 that golf's top three players have all competed in a European Tour event other than the majors and the World Golf Championships.
Woods's five-year reign as number one was ended by Westwood in October, while Kaymer's eight-shot victory at the Abu Dhabi Championship three weeks ago knocked him down to third.
The German failed to dethrone Westwood in Qatar last week, but has another chance now. Anything worse than second place on Sunday will not be good enough, however.
Woods, without a victory since the sex scandal that hit the headlines in November 2009, is playing his second event of the year.
He was only 44th at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines two weeks ago.
Despite being number one in the world Westwood is the fourth favourite this week.
He was only 64th in Abu Dhabi, then missed the halfway cut in Qatar and Kaymer, Woods and Rory McIlroy are all ahead of him in the tournament odds.
Woods beat Kaymer by a shot on his last visit to the Desert Classic in 2008. He was out injured the following year and last February was still taking time off to try to sort out his private life.
The 35-year-old was also the champion in 2006 and third in 2007, making him a cumulative 50 under par for his last three trips. For Kaymer it will be a first-ever round with Woods.
“Of course I've met him, but I don't know how it is to play with him,” he said. “It will be great for the tournament, so I look forward to it.
“I think we shouldn't really see it as a rivalry. We are out here to have fun and play good golf and show the people that we do our job with passion and love.
“It's not about winning or losing in the end of the day. It's about challenging each other and having fun. I think I have a better chance to become the number one this week than last week because I fancy the golf course much more than Qatar.”
New Ryder Cup captain Jose Maria Olazabal has been given what he wanted for next year's defence of the trophy in Chicago — only two wild cards and a change to the qualifying system.
Colin Montgomerie asked for three wild cards for Celtic Manor last October, but still faced a situation where he had to choose between Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Justin Rose and Edoardo Molinari.
Casey and Rose missed out despite the former being the world number nine at the time and the latter having won twice in America. Olazabal believes that by selecting five players off a European Tour money list first and then going to a world ranking points list for the next five — for Montgomerie it was the other way round and only four from the world list — the chances of the best players qualifying automatically will be enhanced.
“I am very pleased that the tournament committee has agreed to my request,” said Olazabal.
“The only reason that I asked for a change in the criteria is because I believe that it will give me the strongest team possible to defend the Ryder Cup.”