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Tiger Out to Regain Top Position


On Monday, Lee Westwood - even though he didn't play in a tournament - supplanted Tiger Woods from the No. 1 ranking in golf. The cryptic formula for determining the rankings were part of the reason that Woods's 281-week tenure at the top came to an end.

Due to Woods's limited schedule this year (he only played 12 PGA Tour events and logged two top-five finishes), and the fact that his last win came in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, his reign was threatened throughout the season. "It has been a different year," he said in September.

Among the contenders to overtake Woods, who's been No. 1 since 1998 and unseated only twice - by Vijay Singh and David Duval during those 12 years - have been Phil Mickelson, Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who could have taken the top spot with a tie for second or better in last weekend's Andalucia Masters in Spain (he finished in a tie for 21st at 7-over 291 after closing with a 75).

Woods is in China this week for the HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Also scheduled to play are Westwood, defending champion Mickelson, Kaymer, and others in the top-10 rankings: Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, who hung on and won the Andalucia Masters at Valderrama.

Woods is pleased about how his game has been rounding into shape. "I like where my game is headed," Woods said last month while discussing his Chevron World Challenge tournament in December. "I like the pieces of it and how they're falling into place. In particular at the Ryder Cup, and especially in the singles how I played, and that's the way I know I can play the game of golf."

After the scandal surrounding his extramarital affairs swept across the news wires last Thanksgiving, Woods went into a golf freefall as he dealt with personal issues. "All in all it was a long, frustrating year, but in the end it turned out that everything's headed in a positive direction now," he said.

Adding to his conundrum were extensive swing changes he has been making under the tutelage of swing coach Sean Foley. "I don't have it all dialed in yet. But I figured if I could play the way I did in the singles match, which I hadn't done that all year, that's a positive sign," Woods said in reference to his 4-and-3 rout of Francesco Molinari in last month's Ryder Cup.

Among those who don't expect Woods to disappear is McDowell, who won the U.S. Open earlier this year at Pebble Beach. "The face of the golfing world has changed here in the short term," McDowell told Golf Magazine senior editor Alan Bastable. "But I predict another five years of Tiger Woods's dominance in the game. I think he'll be No. 1 in the world comfortably for the next five years."

McDowell based his opening on Woods's play in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, where, even though it was in a losing cause, Tiger won three of four matches, including his victory over Molinari. In 15 holes against the Italian, Woods made eight birdies, including five straight.

"I thought he looked ominously back at the Ryder Cup," McDowell told Bastable. "I thought he quietly went about his business and had a good week in an event where historically he's not been very good. I think his return to form is inevitable. I just think he's been slowly but surely getting his head around the game. I fully expect Tiger to reenter the golfing world the way he used to be."

As for regaining the No. 1 spot in golf, Woods said, "To be number one in the world you have to win regularly, and I haven't done that lately," Woods told reporters. "As in every event I play, I'm here trying to win."

And he's hoping to get that position back this week at Sheshan International, a $7 million, 78-man event he consider's one of the game's elite golf tournaments. "If ever there was an event that deserved to be the first Asian tournament to impact the top of the world rankings, this is the one. I've referred to it before as the crowning jewel of Asian golf."

Woods will play with McDowell and former No. 1 Ernie Els, while Kaymer will join Hunter Mahan and Casey. Westwood is paired with Mickelson, who calls the event a "field of winners," and 2006 champion Y.E. Yang.