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When Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn tamed Tiger Woods

By James Jose
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DUBAI -- There are not many who can claim to have tamed the Tiger. And one of them is Thomas Bjorn.

Back in 2001, the Dane, then a 30-year-old, bested a red-hot Tiger Woods to win the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Coming at a time when Woods was on a roll, trampling everything in his wake, so to speak, Bjorn's win was of epic proportions.

Woods was already the US Open champion and winner of the Open Championship as well as the US PGA Championship, coming into the tournament and was training his eyes on the Masters, which he later went on to tick.

MORE: Tiger Woods struggles in Dubai, shoots 77 in 1st round

But then, Woods encountered a bump on his maiden voyage to Dubai. Bjorn conjured his own bit of magic and with scores of 64, 66, 67 and a final round of 69, he beat Woods and Ireland's Padraig Harrington by two strokes.

To upstage Woods, you had to be at your best, and indeed Bjorn was, firing the lowest under par winning score of 22-under 266, to deny the American ace.

That was to be Bjorn's sixth title on the European Tour and it gave him iconic status. He also came to be called 'The Great Dane,' a moniker that suited him perfectly.

Now, 45 and with 15 titles under his belt, Bjorn and Woods will cross paths again, 16 years on.

Reminiscing about that remarkable win, Bjorn, who had made Dubai his home then, said that it was a wonderful week.

"It was just a wonderful week. I had my base here and my family and friends and it was home for me at the time. That made it extra special," Bjorn said at the Emirates Golf Club, ahead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, on Wednesday.

"We were witnessing something in golf we might never see again. Somebody dominating the game like Tiger did, and every time anybody went up against him, it was -- you were bound to fall short and that week I didn't. That was something to be proud of," he said.

"But it was just the way we played and the way we just went at each other, but also that respect that we grew for each other that week, that's carried through another 16 years after," he added.

Bjorn, who was tied second at The Open in 2000 and 2003, also said that the win turned them from foes on the course to friends off it, a bond that still exists even today.

"The respect is very much there today and has grown into a friendship and I think that's more what I take away from it. That one week can mean so much to me, but I think it also meant something to Tiger, and that friendship grew from there. And every time we see each other, it's more than two golfers just meeting, that's for sure," said Bjorn.

Bjorn was obviously pleased to see Woods back from career-threatening back issues and figuring in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic after a three-year hiatus.

"Any time he plays, we all know what it does. It puts focus on the event, and what he is, he's the biggest draw in the game, no matter how he plays," he said.

But Bjorn cautioned that it wasn't fair to expect Woods to return to how he once was and urged fans to temper their expectations.

"People get too high expectations. You look at how long he was out of the game and what he's done through surgery-wise and to come back and he has to re-model his swing to adapt to the injuries that he's had," said Bjorn.

"So I don't think you can expect too much of him playing-wise, but that doesn't mean -- that guy can win golf tournaments with his head and he's always been capable, and he can do that this week. But I think people get ahead of themselves and think that he's just going to come out and play great and do things, and then they get very critical when he doesn't. I think it's very unfair. Any sportsman who has been out for that amount of time needs some time to find their way, because practicing and doing all those things at home is a different thing than when you are out.

"And golf has changed, as well. Some of the dominant things in his game, you know, there's a lot of those guys that have those things in his game. But the most dominant thing he had was his head. He was fantastic at working his way around the golf course, and he would beat you just mentally. I think that's one thing that he's still got. I think if he can find that way of playing golf again, then he's very capable of winning a lot of golf tournaments from here on," he added.

This article is written by James Jose from Khaleej Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.