Golf course no haven as Woods wrestles with game

Suddenly, Tiger Woods' golf game looks as vulnerable as his marriage. Woods faces being knocked off his perch as world number one at this week's Players Champio

Updated: May 06, 2010 11:35 IST
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Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida :Suddenly, Tiger Woods' golf game looks as vulnerable as his marriage.

Woods faces being knocked off his perch as world number one at this week's Players Championship, a notion all but unthinkable before his spectacular fall from grace over extra-marital affairs.

A victory by Phil Mickelson, coupled with a finish outside the top five for Woods, would end Woods' reign atop the rankings.

He has held the world number one spot for 264 straight weeks, but after missing the cut at last week's Quail Hollow Championship by a shocking eight strokes Woods seems to be floundering.

It was only the sixth missed cut of Woods' US PGA Tour career, and he has never missed two in a row.

But the TPC Sawgrass, site of the Players, hasn't always been welcoming to Woods.

He won The Players Championship in 2001, but it remains the only event in which Woods has finished outside the top 20 at least five times.

And the course isn't the only part of Sawgrass where Woods has looked supremely uncomfortable in the past.

It was in the clubhouse here on February 19 that Woods ended a self-imposed silence and delivered a globally televised statement in which he apologized to his family, friends and fans for the multiple infidelities that jeopardized his marriage, cost him sponsors and tarnished his personal reputation.

With Woods' wife, Elin, reported by multiple media outlets to be on the verge of filing for divorce, Woods acknowledged this week that trying to whip his game back into shape while under the microscope was difficult.

"I've been trying to make life adjustments and make life changes," he said. "A lot of people, when they go through treatment, they're able to make these adjustments in anonymity. I'm not. And that makes it a lot more difficult."

British Open champion Stewart Cink, who played with Woods at Quail Hollow, said that even after a five-month layoff, Woods lacked his usual laser-like focus.

"He's obviously got things on his mind other than what's going on between the ropes right now," Cink said. "You have to learn how to balance what's going on in your life with your golf, and if you're not in a great place mentally, sometimes it shows up out there."

As Woods faltered at Qail Hollow last week, two young stars were staking their claim as real rivals to the 14-time major champion.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy shot a 62 at Quail Hollow to break the course record by two shots on Sunday and win his first US title two days before his 21st birthday.

In Japan, 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot a 58 to break the record of any course on a major tour en route to a Japan Tour triumph.

The immediate threat to Woods' number one ranking, however, comes from a longtime rival.

Mickelson, who claimed his fourth major title with a victory at the Masters, has plenty of confidence in his own game.

But he won't underestimate Woods, who has been ranked number one for a total of 598 weeks in his career, with only David Duval (15 weeks) and Vijay Singh (32 weeks) supplanting him.

"I have seen him hit shots that I don't know if anybody else in the world could ever possibly hit," Mickelson said. "He is an incredible player and talent, and he has one of the most impressive records -- if not the most impressive record -- in the history of the game.

"Regardless of what he did last week, know the type of competitor he is, I expect him to come back and be the Tiger that we are used to seeing on the golf course."

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