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Tiger Woods ends 2005 back in dominant position

Back with a vengeance and two more majors in his bulging trophy cabinet, Tiger Woods was golf's dominant figure in 2005.

The game's best player since Jack Nicklaus had lost his aura of dominance in 2003 and 2004, failing to win a grand slam title while he rebuilt his swing for the second time in his career since turning professional in 1996.

Although Woods continued to win PGA Tour events during that time and maintained the respect of his peers, the golfing media persistently claimed he was in the middle of a 'Tiger Slump'. Equally persistently, he begged to differ.

This year, though, was a very different story.

Woods wrested back the number one ranking he had lost to Vijay Singh and lifted his haul of career majors to 10 by winning a fourth U.S. Masters and a second British Open in crushing style at St Andrews.

He ended the PGA Tour season with record earnings of $10,628,024.

Although he will probably never match the extraordinary psychological hold he enjoyed over his rivals in 1999 and 2000, he is back to his best and will be the player to beat in the big events over the next five years and beyond.

Several others grabbed their share of the golfing spotlight by delivering career-best seasons in 2005.

New Zealand's Michael Campbell stuck a blow for journeymen professionals with his U.S. Open victory at Pinehurst and Britain's David Howell cemented his place in the game's top tier by holding off Woods to win last month's Champions tournament in China.

Phil Mickelson underlined his major pedigree with a one-shot triumph in the U.S. PGA Championship at Baltusrol while the poignant return to form by Britain's Colin Montgomerie after two years of struggle defined the 2005 European Tour.

Sweden's Annika Sorenstam strengthened her grip on the women's game by winning two more majors and teenage American prodigy Michelle Wie provided one of golf's most memorable moments by turning professional at 16.

Woods's return to the pinnacle of the game eclipsed all of these, however.

His ability to conjure up something special in the heat of major battle was back and long hours of hard work with his coach Hank Haney earned the 30-year-old American just reward.

Apart from two more majors, he clinched two of the elite World Golf Championships titles, six PGA Tour victories overall and richly deserved player of the year honours.

"It was a great season," said Woods. "To make all the changes that I've made with Hank and contend in every major championship, that's ultimately what I want to do.

"I want to be there on the back nine in every major with a chance to win it. This year I was there in all four," added the world number one, who was runner-up at the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the U.S. PGA Championship.

The 36-year-old Campbell, who had to pre-qualify to book his place at Pinehurst, provided one of the season's most emotional moments with his breakthrough at the highest level.

He held off a charging Woods by two shots to become the first Maori to win a major and the second New Zealander after Bob Charles, the 1963 British Open champion.

Left-hander Mickelson, who ended a 14-year wait for his first major triumph at last year's U.S. Masters, clinched his second with a one-shot victory in the U.S. PGA Championship.

It was the icing on the cake for the richly talented Californian, who had won three PGA Tour titles earlier in the season.

Like Mickelson, world number two Vijay Singh won four times in 2005, ending the year with earnings of $8,017,336 without quite duplicating his spectacular 2004 run of form.

The 42-year-old Montgomerie began the year with a lowly world ranking of 81st after negotiating a painful and public divorce in 2004 but ended it with a record European order of merit crown.

He finished second behind Woods at the British Open and returned to the world's top 10 for the first time in almost three years by winning his 30th European Tour title at this month's Hong Kong Open.

Englishman Howell put the gloss on a superb season by winning the prestigious BMW International Open before breaking into the world's top 15 last month with his one-shot triumph over Woods at Shanghai's Sheshan International Golf Club.

Sorenstam lifted her major tally to nine by winning the Kraft Nabisco and the LPGA Championship and ended the LPGA season with a two-stroke victory at last month's Tour Championship, her 11th title of the year.

"This has been another great season," said Sweden's world number one. "The goal next year will be to win all four majors in one year. I always want to do something that no one else has done -- these are the challenges that I love."

Sorenstam will have to contend with several young guns in the women's game, particularly LPGA rookie of the year Paula Creamer and Wie, who made her long-anticipated decision to turn professional in October.

Although yet to win a title at the highest level, Hawaiian Wie is one of golf's greatest talents and the best young player since Woods.

December 13, 2005

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