The generation game
Rob Lee can't wait to watch Tiger Woods return to form and mix it with the new breed of superstars.
Last Updated: 25/01/12 1:45pm
All of the big guns are coming out to play and it feels like the season will kickstart itself into life this week.
Outside the majors and the WGC events, you'd struggle to find a better field than the one at Abu Dhabi.
The world's top four players - Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer - are there plus a host of big names like recent major winners Charl Schwartzel, Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell and top guns Sergio Garcia and Jason Day.
But, as usual, all eyes will be on the world number 25.
Tiger Woods starts his 2012 campaign in Abu Dhabi this week and I believe all of his detractors will have to eat their words before long. I really think he's going to have a great season.
It's good to see him starting out in January and having a good run up to The Masters. He's fit, he's taking part in top-class events and we'll see how much of a tiger he truly is by the end of this season. We will be able to judge him properly over the next 12 months.
We've seen signs of form from him in the last two years, but it's been very patchy. He played well at The Masters in 2010 and had a run in 2011, but a lack of fitness and a lack of practice has prevented him from doing it on a consistent basis.
He won his last tournament, the Chevron World Challenge, and the last two holes of that event could be the biggest of his comeback. He produced two birdies, just like the Tiger of old, to pip Zach Johnson to the title. That may have been a small field, but to finish it off like that will have meant an awful lot to him.
I believe he will get back to world number one. He's getting older, but at the age of 36 he's hardly ancient and he finds himself in an interesting position between generations.
A few years ago he was battling with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen who are all in their forties. He's now bridging the gap between those guys and the new breed of players in their twenties; the likes of McIlroy, Kaymer and Day.
He's going to be playing against McIlroy and co for a few good years yet, which makes me feel very lucky as a golf-watcher. When you throw names like Donald and Westwood into the mix as well, as they search for their first major, there are great stories everywhere.
Abu Dhabi has emerged as the biggest event of the Desert Swing now. It used to be Dubai, but I think this one has taken over.
Amazingly, the computer has put together Woods, Donald and McIlroy - and also Westwood, Kaymer and Garcia - and those two three-balls are obviously the stand-outs.
And everywhere you look there are players arriving on the back of good performances.
Woods won last time out, Westwood ended the season well, Luke Donald ended the season as World No 1 and PGA Tour No 1 and all the top players look to be in good form early on.
I expect Kaymer to do well because he's a fantastic golfer and he loves this golf course. For some reason it's a home from home for him. He shot 24-under last year - and that will never, ever, ever be done again. Rory McIlroy was eight shots behind on 16-under - and at the start of the week people were saying that 15-under should win. When he's good he is very good.
Branden Grace has also qualified to play after two amazing wins, but it will be difficult for him outside his native South Africa. The rest of his season will be a steep learning curve.
Whatever happens, it's going to be an amazing week.
I'm sure PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem will be privately seething that Woods will start his season at Abu Dhabi rather than at Torrey Pines.
That's one of Woods' favourite courses and he's won there loads of times, including the US Open in 2008. His absence from this week's Farmers Insurance Open will undoubtedly lose them TV ratings, advertising and more.
Whatever Finchem says, Tiger still puts bums on seats, but he has been lured by the riches on offer in the desert. It's not unusual for him to go over there at this time of year - he's often played in Dubai - and evidently money talks.
But there's still an exciting field at Torrey Pines, including Phil Mickelson, who is looking for some early-season form. He loves the golf course, but I'm not sure he will be able to win here after a difficult start last week.
You've also got previous winners such as Nick Watney, Ben Crane and defending champion Bubba Watson, while Rickie Fowler will also be showing off his new set of clubs so there's plenty of interest.
Traditionally the big hitters do well on that long course. It has favoured the likes of Mickelson, Woods,Watney and Watson over the years. If you can smash it for miles and then chip and putt then it's the ideal combination around there.
In that context, I like the chances of Nick Watney, who has won here before and returns with all those good vibes.
Rob's Sky Bet Tips
Abu Dhabi Championship: I could write six names on a dice and then roll it to see which one comes up, but I think it will be fun to back Tiger Woods at odds of 9/1.
Farmers Insurance Open: As for Torrey Pines, I'm going for another 'W' to get the 'W'. I'll say Nick Watney will repeat his 2009 win here at 15/1 with Sky Bet.