Where Will Tiger Go From Here


The season, in mens professional golf, isnt over yet. There are four more regular Tour events remaining to be played followed by The Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
In the ensuing days and weeks we will all be watching very closely the world rankings and the top 125 and the top 30, among other things.
But its early enough to start looking to the tone that is being set for 2005. This is, after all, a season in which Vijay Singh wrested away the No. 1 spot atop the Official World Golf Rankings from Tiger Woods.
It is a season in which Woods dropped as low as No. 3 on the world rankings for the first time since 1999.
It is a season in which the Europeans torched the Americans by a whopping nine points in a Ryder Cup that offered little drama on the course and a lot of confusion off the course.
It is a season in which the best Howell in the world by the time October rolled around was Englishman David, not American Charles.
Imagine Ernie Els' relief Sunday after winning the WGC-American Express Championship in Ireland. The victory was his fourth worldwide this year and moved him ahead of Woods into the No. 2 spot in the rankings behind Singh, who did not play the event.
Els has to believe he has finally weathered the nuclear storm that has been Woods. He can look forward to 2005 with the idea that he has, at last, clawed himself back up onto the same plateau with Woods (and now Singh). The playing field, Els and Singh have to think, is level once again.
So what should we expect from Woods next year?
I think there are three ways this thing can go: He can rediscover his swing and regain the dominance that made him the best player in the world by a large margin; He can continue to tinker with his action and struggle with his swing while reeling off top 10s only to wind up repeatedly disappointed in the majors.
Or Woods can enter a downward spiral. Dont bet on that happening. Woods short game alone is good enough to keep among the worlds top 10 for the next 25 years.
After finishing ninth behind Els and seven others Sunday in Ireland, Woods addressed some of these issues.
Ive been close this year, he said, repeating the theme of so many of his press conferences this year. Ive come within a shot of making a playoff two straight weeks during the year. Ive had I dont know how many second place finishes, but Ive been there with a chance to win.
Actually, its only been two seconds for Woods. But there have been three thirds. We get the idea.
If you remember, he added, I junked my golf swing back in 97, too. I won the Masters by 12 and you guys all thought I was crazy for doing that. I remember all those articles. I turned that around, didnt I?
Indeed he did.
No, Woods said. I just wanted to go a different way and felt that I could get better. Im not any different than you are. Im always trying to get a little better, hit better golf shots.
His critics suggest that if it isnt broken, Tiger should not try to fix it. Others have postulated that perhaps Woods is a chronic tinkerer and, ever since his much-publicized split with instructor Butch Harmon, that tinkering has worked to Woods detriment.
Whatever the case, you can be sure of this: Woods wont lack for incentive in 2005.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt