No 1 Ranking on the Line

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2004, 4:00 pm
AKRON, Ohio -- Tiger Woods already lost out on the majors. Next up could be his No. 1 ranking.
The top candidate is Vijay Singh, who showed up at Firestone just 18 hours after winning the PGA Championship acting as if nothing had changed and he was ready to play the next tournament.
'You see some guys win and they have a little lull for a week, or they don't commit to the next week, or it's tiring for them to win,' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. 'I saw him (Monday), and he's just ... he's just Vijay.'
The next time Finchem sees him, he might be looking at the No. 1 player in the world.
Singh's playoff victory at Whistling Straits brought the 41-year-old Fijian to the brink of a goal not many thought possible two years ago.
Having closed the gap to a mere one-tenth of a point, Singh needs only to finish ahead of Woods at the NEC Invitational to end Woods' record reign of 262 consecutive weeks atop the world ranking.
'I want to finish No. 1, and if I can do that, that would be great,' Singh said. 'That will be the ultimate goal for me - to win a major, win the money list and player of the year, and at the same time be No. 1 in the world. I'm very close, but my focus this week is this tournament.
'If I can pull this one off, then I'll probably take the rest of the year off.'
Singh laughed, although everyone already knew he was kidding.
He loves to play tournament golf, so much that he thinks the world ranking system works against him. Singh already has won five times this year, compared with one victory for Woods. A year ago, Singh was a four-time winner and narrowly lost the PGA Tour player of the year award to Woods and his five victories.
What counts is consistency, which is why Singh is so close to the top.
That is how Woods has stayed there for so long - a record 332 weeks since turning pro eight years ago, breaking the record Monday that Greg Norman (331 weeks) had set over a 12-year span.
Woods has been No. 1 for the last 262 weeks, dating to his victory in the 1999 PGA Championship.
And he is well aware that it could be gone over the course of four rounds on a Firestone South course that is playing longer and tougher than ever.
'As far as the No. 1 ranking, it's certainly a point of honor,' Woods said Wednesday. 'You've had to play hard and you've had to play well, and for me to have done it for as long as Greg has, I've been very consistent.'
But it's not just consistency.
Winning is a large part of the No. 1 ranking, which is why Woods is on the verge of losing it. His only victory this year was the Match Play Championship in February, and with only five tournaments left on his schedule, he most likely will end his streak of five consecutive years with at least five victories.
'Greg was No. 1 in the world for a long period of time and he was winning two to four a year, and I did the same thing,' Woods said. 'I did five-plus for five straight years, and now Vijay has won five times this year. That's how you do it. You don't get to No. 1 in the world by finishing top 10. You have to win.'
And that's why Woods is holding out hope that No. 1 still belongs to him until someone takes it away.
His game has not been sharp all year, although Woods can't argue with the venue.
Firestone South has been one of his favorite tracks since he turned pro, never finishing lower than fifth in his six appearances and winning the NEC Invitational three straight times (1999-2001) in a variety of ways - by one shot, by 12 shots and in a seven-hole playoff against Jim Furyk for his only victory in the summer of '01.
'I think any time you come to an event where you've won before and you've had success, you automatically feel comfortable and confident, if your game is not up to form or if you're playing great,' Woods said. 'I've come in both ways into this tournament, and for some reason I've played well.'
The NEC Invitational is for players on the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, the top 50 in the world ranking and winners of top tournaments around the world.
That adds to 76 players competing for a $7 million purse with no cut - the good news for Woods is that he automatically extends that streak to 130 by finishing the first round.
The tough part is holding off Singh, who has won his last two tournaments, and protecting his No. 1 ranking. Woods also has to contend with Ernie Els.
The Big Easy can return to No. 1 - he was last there June 1998 for a total of four weeks - by finishing as low as third, provided Woods and Singh are out of the top 15.
All of them will be taking on a Firestone South course that has added 130 yards to 7,360 yards as a par 70. The most noticeable change is on the par-5 second hole, which now is 526 yards and no longer accessible with a 7-iron for the second shot; and No. 11, which added 30 yards to be 418 yards.
'I think they extended every tee box out there without letting us know,' Singh said. 'The winning score isn't going to be that low. I think it's going to be a high winning score.'
For Singh, it might not matter what he shoots - just as long as he's better than Woods.
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