Five years later, it seems as if nothing has changed.
Woods was still at No. 1 for the 247th consecutive week when he arrived Tuesday for the Wachovia Championship and his first look at Quail Hollow Club. But take an exit poll among players, and most consider Vijay Singh to be the best player in golf now.
And for good reason.
In a performance that would have put Singh on front pages across the country if his name were 'Woods,' the 41-year-old Fijian overcame a six-shot deficit over the final eight holes by playing them in 7 under par. He closed with a 63 to win in New Orleans, his second straight victory and third of the year.
Some could even make an argument for Phil Mickelson at No. 1.
In his first tournament since winning the Masters, Mickelson birdied three of his last four holes to finish one shot behind in New Orleans. It was his ninth top-10 finish of the year, to go along with two victories, one of them a major. Mickelson moved up to No. 5, making him only the highest-ranked Lefty.
So, what's wrong with the ranking system?
The leaderboard Sunday afternoon - or Monday, in Singh's case the last two weeks - is the best barometer of who is No. 1 that week. The PGA Tour money list (Singh) and the scoring average (Mickelson) are leading indicators of who is playing the best golf that year.
The world ranking measures who is the best overall.
That remains Woods, albeit by a margin that is getting slimmer every week.
Remember, the world ranking is a snapshot of the last two years, not the last two weeks, or even the first four months of the PGA Tour season.
In the last two years, Singh has played 58 tournaments that count toward the world ranking (56 on the PGA Tour, two on the European tour). He has won eight times, has 32 finishes in the top 10 and has missed five cuts.
During the same stretch, Woods has played 39 tournaments (35 on the PGA Tour, three in Europe, one in Japan). He has won 10 times, had 27 finishes in the top 10 and has not missed a cut.
There is no question that Woods is searching for a swing he can trust. He is coming off three poor performances, starting with a tie for 46th at the Bay Hill Invitational - a tournament he had won the previous four years - and ending with a tie for 22nd at the Masters, his worst finish at Augusta National as a pro.
While Woods gets more attention than players equally deserving, that also comes with more scrutiny. He is 0-for-7 in the majors since winning the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black two years ago; Singh is 0-for-16 since winning the 2000 Masters, and Mickelson was 0-for-42 for his career until three weeks ago.
Woods could always point to his record, which is second-to-none over the last two years.
But even that could be about to change.
Woods has never faced a challenge to his No. 1 ranking as strong as Singh's performance the last 15 months. By winning back-to-back, the Fijian closed within 2.14 points in the complex system.
How close is 2.14 points?
Because points are gradually weighted toward the most recent performance, Woods stands to lose more points than Singh over the next month, mostly because he won the Deutsche Bank in Germany and the U.S. Open two years ago.
Here's a simple translation that doesn't require knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem: At this rate, Woods and Singh will be neck-and-neck going into the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and Singh could overtake him a week later.
Of course, that depends on what happens between now and then.
Woods and Singh are playing in the Wachovia Championship. Both are expected to play next week in the Byron Nelson Classic, then the Memorial the first week of June.
Singh did not realize he was this close after winning New Orleans, but he realizes what it takes to get over the hump - play well, continue to play well, and don't let up.
'You are not going to lose any spots winning golf tournaments,' he said. 'But it's very hard to catch Tiger. His points are so high up there. When he comes out, he always performs well. So, I've got to keep winning five or six events a year just to get close to him.'
Singh might never get a better chance than this.
Woods never has been under more pressure to get his game pointed toward the fairway instead of the trees.
His last tournament in North Carolina was the 1999 U.S. Open down the road at Pinehurst No. 2, back when David Duval - remember him? - was No. 1 in the world.
Woods tied for third at Pinehurst, ran his drought in the majors to 10 at the British Open, then reclaimed the No. 1 spot by winning the PGA Championship at Medinah.
That was 247 weeks ago.
Woods went on to win his final four PGA Tour events of the '99 season, ran off perhaps the greatest season in golf in 2000 with nine victories, three majors and over $9 million, and hasn't been seriously threatened since then.
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