Woods’ No. 1 Reign Ends After 264 Straight Weeks

Times Staff Writer

Tiger Woods, a golfer once so dominant that many imagined he might sap the sport of its competitiveness, lost his ranking as the world’s No. 1 player Monday to Vijay Singh.

Woods, 28, had been No. 1 for more than five years, a record 264 consecutive weeks.

He remains one of the most famous and wealthy athletes in the world -- Forbes Magazine ranked him first in earnings this year at $80.3 million -- yet he has won only one tournament in 2004.

Nor has Woods won any of the game’s storied majors -- the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open or the PGA Championship -- since the 2002 U.S. Open, failing in his last 10 attempts.


Even so, he could have remained No. 1 in the rankings -- determined by a formula that considers the past two years -- simply by finishing ahead of Singh in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Mass. But Singh shot a 69 and won the title by three strokes over Woods, who tied for second.

With that, the reign at No. 1 that began when Woods was a mere 23 is at least temporarily over. “That’s not too bad, is it? I’ve had a good run,” Woods said. “I’m not disappointed about the ranking; I’m disappointed about not winning.... Winning takes care of the ranking.”

Winning, however, no longer comes so easily to a player who won the Masters by a record 12 strokes in 1997 and once held all four major titles at the same time. He has been accused of being in a slump before, but has always come back with enough victories to disprove the perception.

As his father, Earl Woods, once said, “He wasn’t in a slump. He was in spring training.”

During the stretch when Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship and the 2001 Masters, fellow player Sergio Garcia put it succinctly: “The way to overcome Tiger is to be perfect, and if not, congratulate him.”

Ernie Els concurred.

“We’re competing against a guy that is dominating a sport unlike anybody else,” said Els, a leading Tour player.

That is no longer the case. Yet, amid hand-wringing over such things as the state of Woods’ swing and his impending marriage to Swedish-born Elin Nordegren, some have overlooked how well Singh has played.


The victory Monday was his sixth of the season. Woods has won more tournaments in a season only twice: He won eight in 1999 and nine in 2000.

Woods’ dominance as a player, his likable personality and multiracial background made him an American icon and marketing phenomenon -- an appeal that seems immune to temporary decline on the course. He grew up playing on the courses of Southern California, putted with Bob Hope on “The Mike Douglas Show” at 2, was featured in Golf Digest at 5 and went to Stanford on a golf scholarship.

Singh, 41, has come much farther to attain his ranking. He was born in Fiji and used to sprint across an airport runway to reach the golf course and was once a club pro in Borneo, working for minimum wage plus $10 a lesson. Singh toiled on tour in Asia before winning his first PGA event in 1993, at age 30. Woods will not turn 29 until December.

“I’ve worked pretty hard for this and finally achieved what I wanted to do starting at the beginning of the year,” said Singh, who has won three majors -- the 1998 PGA, 2000 Masters and 2004 PGA -- to Woods’ eight.

“It wasn’t about trying to beat Tiger and beat the No. 1 player. I was trying to win,” Singh said.

Woods and Singh were tied for the lead after Woods holed a 64-foot pitch with his sand wedge at No. 12 and Singh missed an 11-foot par putt at No. 13. But Singh recovered the lead on the next hole, and birdied three of the last four to win.


“It feels great, but I thought I was playing good enough to be No. 1 for a while, but I kept saying there was nothing I could do about the rankings,” Singh said. “Finally, it’s turned in my favor, and I’m really proud to achieve that.”

Woods’ seemingly disastrous season remains one that any other player on tour would take.

Though his only victory came at the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship in La Costa, he has finished second in two tournaments and third in three others, amassing a total of 12 top-10 finishes in 17 events and winning more than $4.5 million.

Though he barely got past the second-round cut at the PGA Championship last month, Woods has made the cut in 131 consecutive tournaments, easily the best on tour. Scott Verplank’s second-ranked streak is 26. Woods’ falloff from the heights of 2000 and 2001 is mild compared with the trajectory of David Duval, whom Woods supplanted as No. 1.

Duval, who won the 2001 British Open, finished tied for 13th in this weekend’s Deutsche Bank Championship -- after making the cut for the first time in 15 months. He ranks 407th on the money list after winning $93,750 Monday -- his year’s total.

Though Woods is now No. 2, his stay there might not be for long, if history is a guide.

He suffered a slump by his standards while retooling his swing in 1998 and 1999 -- still managing to win the 1999 PGA Championship -- then emerged to have his greatest successes.

“This is the best ball-striking week I’ve had all year,” Woods said. “There’s no doubt I played more like a No.1 than I have in a while.”


For as long as Singh’s reign lasts, he will enjoy it.

“I never thought I’d be sitting here, the best player in the world,” Singh said. “Obviously it’s been a journey, and something that cannot be forgotten.”

Associated Press and the Hartford Courant contributed to this report.