Woods follows the money to Abu Dhabi

Tiger Woods says he'll take his talents to Abu Dhabi in January instead of San Diego (Photo: Getty Images via tigerwoods.com)

Tiger Woods surprised tournament organizers by announcing that he will not open his 2012 season at Torrey Pines Golf Course. Instead of competing in the 2012 Farmers Insurance Open in January, the former No. 1 in the world will travel across the world for a prodigious appearance fee in Abu Dhabi.

It’s hardly shocking that Woods, who Wednesday trumpeted his plans to play in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, would fatten his wallet at the expense of a PGA Tour event. It would seem, however, that a healthy but 0-for-24-months-and-counting Tiger might welcome a chance to get back to the winner’s circle on a track where he’s triumphed seven times, including besting Rocco Mediate in a playoff for the 2008 U.S. Open title.

Woods has made Torrey Pines the traditional start to his season since 2006. Injuries and off-course issues kept him out of the 2009 and 2010 tournaments.

Perhaps a bit more puzzling was the PGA Tour’s rubber-stamping of Woods’ schedule change. As CBSSports.com’s Steve Elling noted, golfers must usually play in 15 tour events annually to qualify for a release from a competing tournament. The tour similarly gave Woods, who played in nine tour contests in 2011 and 12 in 2010, the go-ahead to play in Dubai earlier this year, Elling said.

While tour officials may have no official complaint about Woods’ flirtation with another golf association, the decision certainly took the incoming tourney director by surprise. Peter Ripa told the San Diego Union-Tribune that he learned of Woods’ truancy while watching television Wednesday morning.

“Certainly, when I heard the news this morning I got a knot in my stomach,” said Ripa, who suggested that local Woods’ supporters may feel jilted. “I can understand why fans in San Diego would say, ‘We’ve supported Tiger; he’s had arguably his greatest success here.’”

In his statement, Woods made no mention of the millions he’ll pocket just by showing up, or of the PGA Tour event he’ll eschew, focusing instead on his wanderlust.

“I’ve always enjoyed playing in HSBC events around the world, so I have been interested in including the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in my schedule for some time,” Woods said on his website. “I am also intrigued to spend time in Abu Dhabi. Visiting new places is one of the things I really enjoy about being a professional golfer.”

Woods, No. 50 after his third-place finish at last week’s Australian Open, will be part of the strongest field in the event’s history, according to the Euro Tour. He’ll battle top-ranked Luke Donald and 2011 major champions Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy, and Darren Clark for the $2.7 million purse at Abu Dhabi Golf Club from January 26-January 29.