Tiger Woods, after his ghastly showing on Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open, is the Las Vegas oddsmakers’ pick to come in second to Rory McIlroy at this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
Bovada touts McIlroy, who seems to have turned his game around of late, as having the best chance (10/3) of topping the field, with Woods (11/2) taking second place. Reigning FedExCup and Race to Dubai champion Henrik Stenson (9/1) has the best chance of finishing third, according to the handicappers.
Woods has two wins at the Emirates Golf Club. However, as he proved with his third-round 79 and career-first 54-hole missed cut last week at Torrey Pines, where he was going for his ninth victory, familiar confines are not always all that cozy. His stunningly premature exit from the tournament he has captured eight times, no doubt, deprived the five-time 2013 PGA Tour winner of his usual front-running spot.
Instead, McIlroy occupies the top position, which Golfweek.com’s Alex Miceli pointed out, he had ahead of last year’s tilt in Abu Dhabi that saw both superstars miss the cut. Following a terrible 2013 campaign, McIlroy has shown flashes of the mastery that won him two major championships, with a win at the Australian Open in December and strong performances at the WGC-HSBC Champions (T6), DP World Tour Championship (T5), and Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship (T2).
Given the misery he went through most of last season after switching from Titleist to Nike, McIlroy knows a bit about dealing with disappointing rounds and brushed aside suggestions that Woods’ best days were behind him.
"He got off to a bit of a slow start to the season so he will be wanting to make up for that this week," McIlroy told AFP on Tuesday ahead of the 21-player Champions Challenge, in which Woods tied for eighth and McIlroy shared third place. "I think he has still got a few good years left so I am looking forward to battling with him down the stretch a few times."
McIlroy, who earned his first professional win at the 2009 edition of this week’s tourney and will play the first two rounds with Woods and defending champion Stephen Gallacher, looked forward to the possibility of taking on his boyhood hero this week and beyond.
"I grew up dreaming of taking on Tiger down the stretch at a major. It hasn't quite happened yet. We've sort of been in contention a few times without having a battle," McIlroy said. "You always want to put yourself up against the best and Tiger's been the best in the game for the last 15 to 20 years -- I mean 15 years. I am making him sound old."