Woods hurt by poor putting, falls short in Dubai

Sunday, February 4th 2007, 9:59 pm
By: News On 6

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Exasperated by his poor putting, Tiger Woods headed home after one of those rare weeks in which he did not win a tournament.

He finished two strokes behind winner Henrik Stenson in third place Sunday, unable to make a successful title defense at the Dubai Desert Classic before a gallery that included Roger Federer and Michael Schumacher.

Woods can take consolation in knowing his streak of seven straight victories on the PGA Tour is still alive, but he knows there's work ahead.

"That's one of the worst putting weeks I've had in a long time," said Woods, who shot a 3-under-par 69 to finish at 17-under 271. "I'm going to go home and just kind of figure it out. Hopefully get my putting organized before I compete again."

Stenson (68) began the day two shots behind Ernie Els (71) at Emirates Golf Club. But Stenson, a Swede who lives in Dubai, had five birdies to finish at 269. Els was a shot back, and Woods shared third with Niclas Fasth (68).

On a day when sand kept kicking up, Woods vied for the lead despite bogeying the first, 10th and 11th holes. On the 11th, his chip dribbled into a sand trap. He tossed his club in frustration after another bogey.

"I was trying to hit a soft little chip-and-run and just muffed it right into the bunker," he said.

On the 13th, Woods barely missed a 30-foot eagle putt, and Woods fell to his knees in dismay. The American tapped in for a birdie, then strolled over to greet Federer.

On the 15th, Woods chipped in from 35 feet for birdie and appeared within striking distance. On the next hole, he hit his second shot from the fairway to within 5 feet, but he missed the birdie putt.

"It's frustrating because normally I don't really putt well on poor greens, like I did last week," Woods said, referring to the Buick Invitational. "And I come over here to the best greens we've seen in a long time and I miss a bunch."

Stenson has lived in Dubai for three years and is a member of Emirates Golf Club.

"It's just unbelievable to win in your home tournament," he said. "It's always nice to beat Tiger. And to play four rounds with Ernie and to beat him by one shot coming down the stretch, that's also satisfying."

Strong wind got the sand blowing, making conditions difficult.

"It was brutal," Woods said. "I got sandblasted."

Els started the day in front. He narrowly missed a series of putts that cost him the lead and finished with three bogeys.

"I really got out of sorts on the greens and had a couple of bad swings," said Els, a three-time winner of the Desert Classic.

Stenson said the blustery weather was strange for Dubai. On the ninth hole, his drive to the green got blown onto the roof of a spectators' pavilion. The referee forced the Swede to make a precarious climb to the roof to identify his ball before allowing him a penalty-free drop. Stenson said he scraped his ribs making the climb.

"I got a little upset that I had to go up there," he said.

His victory came down to the par-5 18th, with Stenson a stroke ahead of Els. The South African hit a 60-foot chip shot from the rear of the green that just missed being an eagle. Stenson then hit a 5-foot birdie, and Els followed with a birdie to finish a stroke behind.

"I thought I was perfect," Els said. "But it came up a little short."

England's Ross Fisher (71) finished fifth at 16 under after leading the first two days. Fisher once fetched practice range balls for Woods and was awed to be paired with him.

"For 15 holes I was toe-to-toe with him," Fisher said. "I almost had to pinch myself to believe I was about six or so shots ahead of the world No. 1, which was totally unbelievable."