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Tiger Woods drops to World No.3

Tiger Woods ended a frustrating week at the WGC-American Express Championship on Sunday without a strokeplay title to defend for the first time since turning professional in 1996.

The 28-year-old American, who finished ninth after carding a third successive two-under-par 70, also slipped to third in the official world rankings, being dislodged by tournament winner Ernie Els.

It is the first time since May 1999 that Woods has been out of the top two spots.

"I think it was the Byron Nelson (Classic) in '99 when I fell to three," said the American, whose five-year reign at the pinnacle of the game was ended by Fiji's Vijay Singh three weeks ago.

"Davis (Love III) went to two and I went to three. But I won in Germany the very next week, and that's when actually my game came together."

Woods spent most of 1998 and early 1999 modifying his swing in a bid to become a better player.

His efforts succeeded as he won his second career major that August, in the U.S. PGA Championship at Medinah, before going on to win the last three majors of 2000.

The last two years have been very different, though, for the best player in the game since Jack Nicklaus.

His dominance has waned since mid-2002 and he failed to win a major last year -- for the first time since 1998 -- and again this season.

He has had problems with his driving and many of his peers feel he should reunite with former swing coach Butch Harmon.

Going into the WGC-American Express Championship, he had not won a strokeplay title for 12 months and was a doubtful starter after straining his shoulder last week from sleeping awkwardly on a flight to Orlando.

"It was a long week," said Woods, the defending champion at Mount Juliet. "I'm happy to actually have played all four rounds. I don't know how I did it but I got a top 10 out of it. I'm pretty proud of it."

The eight-times major winner had to battle through severe pain on his way to an opening 68 but then lost form with his putter as his back improved in the second round.

"I don't know how I got through Thursday and even Friday, so I'm pretty pleased," he said.

"Doing workouts three times a day isn't the best way to go about my business. But I played as hard as I could and somehow gutted it out."

Woods is scheduled to play the season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta and the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan before the end of the year but his highlight of 2004 could take place in Barbados next week.

Media reports suggest he will be travelling there to marry his Swedish fiancee Elin Nordegren, and the former world number one did not deny it when asked before the start of the American Express Championship.

"All I can say is I'm getting married in the future," he replied. "I've narrowed it down to that. I think you guys would be the last people I'd ever tell."

Asked on Sunday whether he was ready for some heat in the Caribbean, he replied: "I'm ready to go diving. I'm ready to hop in that water and shoot some fish."

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