One Tiger that can't be caged

Henrik Stenson's desert triumph for Sweden in Arizona at the weekend was another indication of how much more global golf has become.

Henrik Stenson's desert triumph for Sweden in Arizona at the weekend was another indication of how much more global golf has become.

But America still has the top three players in the world rankings - and one player, of course, who dominates the game and in all probability will go on dominating for years to come.

Roger Federer set a new tennis record this week when he surpassed Jimmy Connors' 160-week unbroken reign as world number one.

He now has his sights on Pete Sampras' total number of 286 weeks in the top spot during his career.

But Tiger Woods has been golf's main man for 432 weeks and nobody is expecting his third round defeat to Nick O'Hern in the WGC-Accenture Match Play to signal a decline.

Woods first held the number one position in June 1997 and, although it frequently changed hands for a year, since June 1998 only David Duval and Vijay Singh have muscled in.

Duval's current position is 356th. Singh, who last held the top spot in June 2005, is down to ninth and, at the age of 44, the chances of him being able to mount a challenge again to 31-year-old Woods are slim.

Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, currently second and third, are both 36. The consistency of the former and the occasional brilliance of the latter make them worthy stars, but they have achieved only a small percentage of what Woods has achieved and, like the rest, are firmly in his shadow.

The worrying part for American golf followers is how little they see of Woods and the likelihood that this is not going to change.

Last week was only his third event of the year - and only his second in the States. To see him out of it before the weekend was, naturally, the last thing the television executives or local fans wanted.

Woods is not playing in this week's Honda Classic and, although more will undoubtedly be added, the next two tournaments he is down to play on his own website are the CA world championship in Florida on March 22-25 and the Masters a fortnight later.

In fact, that website schedule has him listed for a mere 12 events all year and one of those - his defence of The Open at Carnoustie - has a question mark over it because his wife Elin is due to give birth to their first child just before the tee-off.

It is a matter of concern for the US Tour that Woods has made it clear he intends to go on being a worldwide player. Late last year he went to China and Japan and his second appearance of this season was in Dubai.

The rumour mill has it that Woods is in a huff because the US Tour bosses allocated him the week leading up to Christmas for his own challenge tournament, which restricted the entry.

But he says: "My entire playing career will be all around the world. I enjoy it and it's what you have to do. I think the game has become global, and to me it's always fun to see different countries and cultures.

"Because of my travels around the world, I've gotten to know and have made some great friends."

And, Woods believes, it has helped to make him the extraordinary talent he is.

"Without a doubt. Without a doubt," he said. "I mean, travelling around the world playing different grasses, different types of golf courses. What you see in Australia is not what you see in Japan. I think, from an experience standpoint, that's vital to your development as a player."

The US Tour hierarchy have manoeuvred things so all the world championships this year - and the vast majority of them in the foreseeable future - will be in the US.

With nine countries represented in the world's top 20, there ought to be a demand for these showpiece occasions to go around the globe. But sponsorship and television money dictates.

O'Hern's victory last Friday ended Woods' bid for an eighth successive US Tour title. It was a streak that wasn't a streak to start with really since he had lost in China, Japan and Dubai, but it does not stop him being the centre of attention.

Yet when he next plays, he will be going for an eighth successive strokeplay victory on the circuit.

There is always a way to make him the story. Just look at the tee-off times he was given last week for the three days he was there.

Always roughly the same, always just as television was coming on air.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer