Woods lauds talent of mainland's juniors
Tim Noonan in Dongguan
A little more than 24 hours after finishing fourth at the US Masters on Sunday, Tiger Woods touched down at the Mission Hills Golf Club for a junior clinic and to help promote his line of clubs and apparel.
'I always love coming back here and not just for the golf,' Woods said. 'Being half Asian I feel comfortable here.'
Despite a high-profile sex scandal that cost him his marriage and most of his commercial sponsorships, Woods clearly still has star power in southern China.
Thousands of spectators lined the 18th hole of the Olazabal course to watch Woods play with five mainland junior champions.
A scorching start to his final round at Augusta saw Woods tied for the lead, despite starting the day seven strokes back. But an uneven back nine doomed him and he finished four shots behind eventual champion Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa.
'I played well and unfortunately just came up a little short on the back nine,' Woods said. 'But it was a fun front nine. Had a blast. It was fun being in the mix. Unfortunately, didn't get it done.'
Although he has not won in more than 1 1/2 years, Woods claims his reworked swing is now starting to take shape. 'I hit the ball really well on the weekend and made some shots - those are shots I know I can hit,' he said. 'It's really starting to feel pretty good.'While he appeared relaxed and congenial in the clinic, Woods' sponsors ensured the message remained corporate. His press conference was scripted and guarded with no questions allowed from a disappointed media contingent. He was quick to point out how his training regimen had evolved over the years.
'When I was 25, I was on tour and having a pretty good run. I won a few tournaments right about that age,' he said, before adding in a rare self-deprecating tone: 'And at 35, I haven't won a thing.'
For Woods, this was something of a triumphant return to Mission Hills. His first appearance in China was 10 years ago. Amid great fanfare, more than 10,000 people flocked to see him during an exhibition that a number of China's top junior players point to as their first exposure to golf.
'It's been really neat as a player who has come here for a number of years to see the development of the fans and their knowledge of the game and their enthusiasm for the sport,' Woods said. 'These fans are certainly much more knowledgeable now. The growth of golf has been incredible. A lot more kids are coming out to events, whereas when I first came here that wasn't the case.'
Woods had a front-row seat for the next generation and while he offered a few tips, he clearly felt their games were developing just fine.
'I'm really impressed by these kids,' he said. 'Their futures are very bright. It will be fun to watch their careers develop over the years. 'To play in front of a huge crowd like this for the first time and stay composed is awesome and speaks well for all the young talent in China.'
Woods is off to Beijing today before flying to South Korea for the final leg of his corporate junket.