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Tiger Woods of 2000 may never return

When Tiger Woods went on the rampage in 2000 and 2001, amassing four straight Major titles, the golf world was left in a state of shock.

His stunning performance at Peeble Beach in 2000, when he won the US Open by an amazing 15 shots over a shell-shocked second-placed Ernie Els, was probably the greatest four rounds of golf played in a Major.

Woods still has the golf world in a state of shock – not by what he is winning but by what he isn't winning.

Four years ago the best of the rest thought Woods was quite simply out of this world.

Els admitted at the time that he did not see how he could beat Woods.

"My best is just not good enough. He is so far ahead of the rest," said the normally laid back South African.

Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke was simply in awe.

Asked in 2001 about when he might finally win a Major the Ulsterman repled: "It's a lot harder now. There are four a year. Tiger will win two of them, that only leaves two for the rest of us."

Now three years later the golfing Gods are taking their revenge.

Woods is no longer world No.1. He's not even two after Els dumped him down to third spot when he took the World Golf Championship at Mount Juliet in the Republic Ireland earlier this month.

There are theories galore why Woods is now reduced to being another great player who for a short period played golf that was out of this world but is now back to reality.

Golf's history is full of such players. Johnny Miller was unstoppable in the 1970's, destroying courses and the opposition with an uncanny ease. In the 1973 US Open he shot a stunning final-day 63 to win – considered the finest single round of golf in a Major for the past 100 years.

David Duval had a brief flash of super greatness – even shooting a 59 on Tour. He grabbed world No.1 from his friend Woods and everything seemed possible.

A victory at the 2001 British Open simply confirmed that another golf super star had arrived.

Three years later Duval is 476th ranked in the world, behind such unknowns as Warrick Druin, Kalle Brink, Omar Uresti and Spencer Levin.

A candid Duval explained how his Open win had been the beginning of the end.

"A week removed from the Open championship is when I went through my existentialist moments of 'Is this it?"' said Duval.

"My mistake was, I had thought it was a pretty broad goal, but it turned out to be pretty narrow," he added.

No one believes Woods is going to go down the Duval path.

His goal in golf is certainly not narrow.

He makes no secret that he wants to beat Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 Major victories and at 28 he still has plenty of time left.

But 12 months ago no one would have dared claim that Woods would only be No.3 in the world come the end of 2004.

World No.1 Vijay Singh has a firm opinion why Woods' has suddenly slipped down the rankings.

"I'm sure he's going to start winning sooner or later but at the moment I think his focus is elsewhere," said the 41-year-old Singh.

"I think it's his body change a little bit and his golf swing change. As you get older you have to keep adjusting to your golf swing. I think your body does not stay the same.

"When he first came on to the scene, he was extremely strong. I'm not saying he isn't strong now but you do slow down a little bit. The golf swing has to match your body ability.

"I don't think he has progressed that way. There's been a big change in his body mannerisms and his golf swing.

"You know I have adjusted accordingly and for the better and I don't think he has done that.

"I think his body and his golf swing do not match like it did some five years or four years ago so he has to adjust that. I'm sure once he figures that one out he'll be okay."

Nick Faldo is convinced Woods simply needs to refocus back on his golf game.

Some pundits blame his fall from the top on his split with coach Butch Harmon. Since the two parted Woods has not had another Major win.

Others lay the blame on the equipment and technical advances that have turned ordinary players into tournament winners – a theory Woods has advanced.

Woods has never grabbed at the latest invention in the golf market. In fact the average pro would probably be unable to hit Woods' clubs – certainly not the distance they can with their own clubs.

And some blame it on Woods' decision to change his swing – again.

Woods insists that the swing change is not to blame for his woes. In 1997 after his Masters victory he began redesigning his swing and that, he claims, was a lot harder for him than his current changes.

"Basically all of '98 and early '99 I didn't contend in tournaments. I was back-dooring top 10s just by playing well in the weekend or Sunday. This year I have been in contention to win tournaments, and I just haven't won," he said.

At every press conference Woods insists he is "almost there".

No one doubts he will get back on the winning trail again.

But the Tiger Woods roar of 2000 and 2001 may never be heard again.

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