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Page last updated at 19:28 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 20:28 UK

Tiger Woods braced for defeat in rankings battle

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Woods denies drugs suspicions

Tiger Woods has admitted his status as world number one is under threat at the Players Championship in Florida.

Long-time rival Phil Mickelson will overtake him if he wins at Sawgrass and Woods finishes outside of the top five.

"I've had it happen before," a subdued Woods told a news conference ahead of golf's unofficial fifth major.

Asked if the ongoing turmoil in his private life was affecting his form, having missed the cut at Quail Hollow on Friday, he replied: "Absolutely."

Woods has reigned at the top of the world rankings for a record 258 weeks, but Mickelson is in fine form coming into Sawgrass.

If I can learn something every time I play a major, by the time I'm 23, 24, I should be in a good position to go after them

Rory McIlroy

He won his third Masters title in April and finished second behind Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy last weekend.

"We've been going at it for 13 years, it's gone in streaks," said Woods of his battle with fellow Californian Mickelson.

"I'll get him, he'll get me and it goes in little spurts. Right now he's won a few and hopefully I can win a few myself."

But Mickelson said he would certainly not be taking his old foe lightly, and was not reading anything into Woods's poor showing at Quail Hollow last week.

"He is an incredible player and talent and he has one of the most impressive records, if not the most impressive, in the history of the game," he said.

WORLD RANKINGS
1 Tiger Woods 11.17
2 Phil Mickelson 9.66
3 Steve Stricker 7.75
4 Lee Westwood 7.44
5 Jim Furyk 7.06
* Points average per tournament

"I have seen him hit shots that I don't know if anybody else in the world could ever possibly hit.

"I won't ever underestimate him. Regardless of what he did last week, knowing the competitor he is I expect him to come back and be the Tiger that we are used to seeing on the golf course."

Woods will play his first two rounds with fellow American Hunter Mahan, and England's Ian Poulter, teeing off at 1828 BST on Thursday, while Mickelson will play with Dustin Johnson and Ernie Els.

Woods returned to golf at the Masters in April, where he finished joint fourth behind winner Mickelson, after taking a five-month break following revelations about extra-marital affairs.

On Tuesday, he admitted the only period in his life which compared to the trauma of his current problems followed the death of his father three years ago.

"This is more taxing away from the golf course, with paparazzi following me and all those kind of things," Woods stated.

"I certainly didn't have the distraction last time getting ready for events. You know, helicopters don't normally fly over you on the range and film you. That wasn't the case then but it is now.

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"I'm trying to make life adjustments. A lot of people, when they go through treatment, they've able to make these adjustments in anonymity; I'm not and that makes it a lot more difficult."

Woods also shrugged off a Sports Illustrated survey which claimed that 24% of his fellow PGA Tour golfers suspect that he has used performance-enhancing substances.

"I've never taken performance-enhancing drugs, never taken HGH (human growth hormone), never taken any of that stuff, but everyone is entitled to their opinion," he said.

Woods also denied speculation that he had axed swing coach Hank Haney following his poor showing at Quail Hollow, saying: "I'm still working with him."

McIlroy will be among the favourites when he tees off at 1828 BST after shooting a stunning 62 to win at Quail Hollow, but the Northern Irishman said: "It was a great weekend and I played really, really well but this win doesn't mean I'm going to contend in the majors right away. I really hope I do, but it's a very long career.

"I feel pretty comfortable in that sort of environment. If I can learn something every time I play a major, by the time I'm 23, 24, I should be in a good position to go after them."

Meanwhile, Anthony Kim has joined Steve Stricker in pulling out of the tournament.

World number three Stricker withdrew on Monday because of the collarbone injury which also forced him to miss the Quail Hollow Championship.

Fellow American Kim, 11th in the world rankings and third at the Masters, has a long-term thumb problem.



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see also
Woods to compete in Players event
21 Apr 10 |  Golf
Record-setting Kim makes his move
10 Apr 09 |  Golf
Kim claims Houston Open victory
04 Apr 10 |  Golf
Stricker fends off Donald for win
08 Feb 10 |  Golf
Stricker claims dramatic victory
07 Sep 09 |  Golf
Golf on the BBC
01 Jul 11 |  Golf


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