Tiger Woods's fall from No. 1 to No. 2 in the World Ranking may have been deserved, but his drop to No. 3 last week came as a bit of a shock. Can it be that Woods no longer even qualifies for golf's top pairing? That is the case after Ernie Els passed Tiger by winning the American Express Championship at Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown, Ireland. The reversal would seem to be an occasion for reflection, but the talk at Mount Juliet was more about the future than the past.
Woods finished eight shots behind Els, in ninth, despite playing with a back injury, but he might have had other things on his mind. Although Woods wouldn't confirm anything, the purported plans for his wedding to fianc�e Elin Nordegren were quickly becoming the worst-kept secret in golf. Even as Woods winced through the cold and rain in Ireland, Nordegren, her twin sister Josefine, Tida and Earl Woods and many of the couple's longtime friends were assembling at Sandy Lane, a resort in Barbados that had been rented out in its entirety through Oct. 8. "All I'll say is that I'll be getting married in the future," Woods replied when he was asked about the rumors.
The future was also on the mind of Els, who turns 35 on Oct. 17. After close calls at all of this year's majors, Els took a two-week break during which he played no golf. "You know, I needed to get that out of my system and start over," he said. "I want to get to my goals, and the only way you can do it is to move forward. You can't keep looking back."
What else is there for Els to do? He finally caught Tiger, but he's still not No. 1. That must seem weird to him, too. So now he has set his sights on the career Grand Slam (he already has won the U.S. and British Opens) and Vijay Singh. "I think the game is on," Els said on Sunday evening. "Vijay has won eight times this year; I've won four. So it's interesting."
At least now, when Els does choose to look back, he'll see a welcome sight behind him: Tiger Woods.