Rapturous welcome for Tiger
Kuala Lumpur - Tiger Woods drew large crowds and spoke warmly of his affinity with Asia on Wednesday as he warmed up for a rare appearance in the region looking to ease his frustrations over the Majors and the Ryder Cup.
Despite blazing midday sun at Kuala Lumpur's Mines Resort and Golf Club, about 200 people watched the enduringly popular 14-time Major champion finish his pro-am round with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.
In the two years since Woods last played in Asia, finishing tied sixth at the 2010 WGC-HSBC Champions, he has put a damaging sex scandal behind him and is back at world number two after three wins this year.
And the 36-year-old, whose mother is from Thailand, said he was happy to return for the US$6.1 million CIMB Classic at the Mines, where he won golf's World Cup way back in 1999.
"People sometimes forget that my mom was born here, in Asia, so to me Asia does feel like home. I'm very used to the culture, it's how I was raised," he said.
"I've just really enjoyed my time, throughout the years, that I've spent in Asia."
Woods headlines a limited, 48-man field at the CIMB Classic after a year in which he made progress with technical changes but couldn't win a Major -- or the Ryder Cup, after Europe's last-day charge at Medinah.
Despite ending a 30-month title drought, and then winning two more, he admitted his irritation at failing to close the gap on Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 Major victories. His last Major win was the 2008 US Open.
"I've always said winning one Major championship turns a good year into a great year," Woods said.
"I've had years where I've won five times on tour -- it's a really good year, no doubt, but winning a Major championship just makes it a great year.
"I think it's very similar to what tennis has in the Grand Slams. Guys can have seven, eight, nine win seasons, but if they don't win a slam, it's not a great year. I think it's the same thing in golf."
But he said he was excited at the development of his game and looking forward to some intense training during the off-season, after next week's exhibition with Rory McIlroy in China and November's World Challenge in California.
"I'm excited about turning some of my weaknesses into strengths. I haven't driven very well in a very long time, and this year is probably the best I've driven in my entire career," he said.
"But my iron game wasn't as sharp, and neither was my short game... I was very excited about how much better I'm chipping, and putting it and driving it, but certainly I need to get my iron game back to where it used to be."
Defending champion Bo Van Pelt is likely to be chief among Woods' competitors in Kuala Lumpur after he won last week's Perth International in Australia, the third title of his career.
"This is the first chance I've ever had to defend -- I've only won a few tournaments," said the American.
"But when I won on the Nationwide (tour), the next year I was on the (PGA) tour, and when I won in Milwaukee, that (tournament) went away. This is a first for me."
World number nine Jason Dufner will also challenge in the American-dominated, co-sanctioned event, which will count towards the PGA money list for the first time next year. Thailand's Thaworn Wiratchant leads the Asian contingent.