Woods loses No. 1 ranking to Westwood

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How long Westwood stays at the top remains to be seen.

He was to leave Monday for the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, where four players _ Westwood, Woods, Kaymer and Phil Mickelson _ will have a chance to be No. 1 in the world. For Mickelson, it will be his 13th straight tournament with a chance to be No. 1, the difference now that he is chasing Westwood, not Woods.

“This could be very exciting for the game of golf,” Westwood said.

It was reminiscent of June 1997, when Woods, Ernie Els and Greg Norman all reached No. 1 in a three-week span.

As much as this represents the end of Woods’ reign, it completes a remarkable turnaround for Westwood. He struggled through a slump so severe that he fell as low as No. 266 in the world on May 25, 2003. He gradually began to work his way back toward the top, and Westwood has been surging the last couple of years.

“When you get that low … it’s a very difficult process,” he said. “You take it a step at a time and rebuild the whole thing. And that’s what I tried to do.”

This is the 10th time Woods has lost the No. 1 ranking. The longest he was out of the No. 1 spot was 26 weeks toward the end of the 2004 season and beginning of 2005, when Vijay Singh went on a great run and Woods was in the middle of a swing change.

“You just keep playing,” Woods said in August, as his hold on No. 1 became more tenuous. “Winning golf tournaments takes care of a lot of things, and being No. 1 is one of them.”

Woods had an exhibition in Japan on Monday before going to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions, which starts Thursday at Sheshan International. Mickelson is the defending champion.

Westwood, meanwhile, becomes only the fourth player to reach No. 1 without winning a major. Ian Woosnam reached No. 1 in 1991 the week before he won the Masters, and Fred Couples was at No. 1 in two separate weeks a month before he won the Masters. David Duval was No. 1 for 15 weeks in 1999, and won the British Open two years later.

Westwood hopes a major is coming soon for him.

“It’s a confidence boost if anything,” he said. “It’s confirmation I’m working on the right thing.”

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