Healthy again, Woods eyes fast start in Abu Dhabi
Tiger Woods has rediscovered more than just the ability to win again. Having ended 2011 with his first victory in two years, Woods said the joy of being able to play golf with a healthy body has returned as well.
He told The Associated Press by email that he has fully recovered from the leg injuries that ruined much of last season. He also hopes his recent victory at the Chevron World Challenge in California is the "start of another great run."
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"The lowest moments (last year) came from the fact that I wasn't healthy and couldn't put in the time on and off the course that I wanted and needed to, and that was frustrating," Woods said. "I was playing with pain and that isn't fun. The last couple of months have been really fun and that is mostly because I am feeling healthy again and building week on week."
Woods is preparing for his first tournament of the year and his first in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He will be facing a world-class field that features U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, top-ranked Luke Donald and defending champion Martin Kaymer.
The tournament starts Jan. 26 and will give a first indication of whether Woods can maintain his level of play at the Chevron in December.
"I am looking to get off to a fast start in Abu Dhabi and keep building from there," Woods said. "Now that I am healthy, I feel I can keep building my game and confidence week on week, much like I did at the end of (last) year — from the Australian Open to the Presidents Cup to, finally, a win in California."
Woods finished third at the Australian Open, and then delivered the clinching point for the American team in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne. Now he's eager to show some of the young players who have grabbed the spotlight during his two-year slump that he's still a force.
Donald made history this year by winning the money titles on both sides of the Atlantic, while McIlroy's dominant performance at the U.S. Open drew comparisons to Woods in his prime.
"There are so many great and talented players in the game right now — it is exciting for golf fans and I relish the challenge of going head-to-head with any number of the leading players on a Sunday afternoon," Woods said.
He acknowledged, however, that reclaiming the No. 1 ranking he held for so long might prove difficult. After falling out of the top 50 for a brief period last year, Woods is now ranked No. 23.
"The young guys coming through are practicing harder and training harder than ever before and raising the bar," Woods said. "I think the level of consistency I had a few years ago would see me climb back up the rankings pretty quickly, but I do think there are some pretty phenomenal golfers out there that I really respect."
Marlins' Ramirez says he'll switch to 3B
Hanley Ramirez said he'll accept a position switch to third base so Miami Marlins newcomer Jose Reyes can play shortstop. When Reyes signed a $106 million, six-year deal with Miami last month, there was speculation Ramirez was unhappy about being supplanted at short. But new manager Ozzie Guillen sold Ramirez on the idea.
"I have spoken with Guillen," Ramirez said. "What we want is to win with the Marlins. We will see what's going to happen with the position switch and everything else. If it's third base, OK. Wherever they put me to win, I will do so."
With Reyes at shortstop and Ramirez at third, the Marlins become stronger defensively at both positions, and more potent offensively. Reyes hit .337 with the New York Mets last year to win the NL batting title, and Ramirez — a career .306 hitter — was the 2009 batting champ.
Ramirez missed the final two months of last season with a left shoulder injury that required surgery.
"The shoulder is responding, and it's 95 percent rehabbed," Ramirez said. "I'm happy and better than ever."
He said he's excited about the Marlins' offseason spending spree, which included the signings of Reyes, left-hander Mark Buehrle and All-Star closer Heath Bell, each an All-Star.
"We are a new Marlins club," Ramirez said. "There's also a new Hanley. Good stuff is coming for next season."
Mizdirection wins Santa Anita's Monrovia
Mizdirection rallied on the outside to win the $100,000 Monrovia Handicap by 13/4 lengths Monday at Santa Anita, sending sports talk radio host and co-owner Jim Rome to the winner's circle.
Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Mizdirection ran 61/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:11.64. Gomez won both stakes races on Sunday in similar come-from-behind fashion on his 40th birthday.
Wild Mia, a 28-1 shot, was second, while Separate Forest and defending champion Unzip Me were another nose back in a dead heat for third. It was the first race over the turf course and first stakes victory for Mizdirection, who is owned by Rome and his partners in Jungle Racing.
"Garrett can host the show tomorrow. Garrett can do my TV show; it's Garrett's world, whatever he wants," Rome said. "Garrett Gomez is burning. I've had a lot of really good things happen to me in business and in life, but nothing has ever felt as good as that felt, in a professional sense."
■ Dr Disco, the 3-5 favorite, beat Starforaday by 2¼ lengths on Monday in the $62,700 allowance feature at Aqueduct in New York. The 4-year-old colt trained by Bruce Brown and ridden by Mike Luzzi earned his third win in the last four starts, and sixth of his career in 12 races. The time was 1:11.29 for the 6 furlongs.
The last word
Tennis star Rafael Nadal said that, for now, he has come to terms with being ranked No. 2 in the world behind Novak Djokovic. Nadal said:
"The only thing I know is I have to practice to improve my tennis. For the rest of my career, I don't know if that's going to be enough to beat him or to lose to him 100 more times."