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Tiger Woods returns to action again

Tiger Woods will return to competition this week at the Wachovia Championship after a three-week layoff to find that the golfing landscape has changed in his absence.

In that time Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson have dominated the game and in the process have taken much of the focus away from the world number one for the first time in his career.

Woods' break after the Masters has become an annual event and he spent a week at the Fort Bragg Special Forces base in North Carolina with his father Earl and the rest of the time working on his game, which has become inconsistent at best.

In his last seven stroke-play events he has had more rounds in the 70s, 15, than in the 60s, 12. In his last three starts, the Bay Hill Invitational, the Players Championship and the Masters, Woods had seven rounds over par in the last 12 and was never in contention, finishing tied for 46th, 16th and 22nd.

"The things that I'm working on, you have to be very patient when you're making changes in your swing," Woods said.

"It's not a big swing change like I made in '97, just little things, tweaking it here and there.

"It takes time. You have to be patient with it.

"I'm starting to see progress, and that's what I was doing back in '98, I was making progress and playing more consistent golf, and that's what I'm trying to do now."

Mickelson, on the other hand, is still basking in his Masters win and has taken the green jacket to places never envisioned by Augusta National.

Working the talk show circuit did not hamper Mickelson when he finally made it back to the course as he finished second last week at the New Orleans Classic to Singh and extended his top 10 finishes this year to nine out of 10 tournaments.

Singh's impressive run since mid-2003 has continued and he won back-to-back events at the Houston Open and New Orleans.

With three wins this year, Singh has also cut in half what had seemed an insurmountable gap between himself and Woods in the world rankings. Woods has been world number one since June 1997 but Singh could take over that mantle by the U.S. Open.

"I feel like if I keep playing the way I am, not have any hiccups along the way, I have a good chance," said Singh.

"It depends what Tiger does, too. If he starts winning like he normally does, the task will be much harder."

Whether Woods can regain the form that translated into eight major championships and the domination of professional golf is somtheing even he seemed unsure on his return this week.

"It's a fact I won't be number one in the world forever, either someone flat outplays me or I might not play at the same level or old age takes over," Woods said.

"Whatever the circumstances are, I don't know, but whatever they are, it's going to happen. Every street comes to an end. That's just a fact of life."

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