- Kevin Maguire, Golf
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For the first time since before he won the 1997 Masters with an historic 12-shot victory, Tiger Woods dropped out of the top 10 in the world rankings Sunday night. And his plunge won't stop there.
How far might he fall? The numbers stack up against him.
Not to get too engrossed in the minutiae of the world rankings formula, but the main ingredient is a rolling schedule that pulls results from the past two years of a player's record, with the most recent 13 weeks weighing the most heavily.
Over the next four months Woods' world rankings résumé will lose points from five victories from June, 2009 to Sept. 2009 -- unless he can win in the interim. That stretch includes W's at the Memorial, AT&T National, Buick Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and BMW Championship. That last win was, coincidentally, his last victory on the PGA Tour.
To put this into perspective, over his first six events of 2009 -- which have already come off Woods' world ranking record -- Tiger's average finish was 7.6 through that year's Players Championship and included one victory at Bay Hill. During that span, he dropped from No. 2 in the world to No. 12.
Over the next four months, though, his world ranking points from 2009 will be nearly impossible to replace. From the 2009 Memorial in early June through the Tour Championship at the end of September, Woods claimed five victories in 10 events and nine top-10s overall for a staggering average finish of 2.8.
That stretch of golf might have been one of his best ever in a career that saw him win back-to-back majors on four separate occasions including the Tiger Slam of 2000-01.
No one can say for sure just how far Tiger will fall in the rankings in the coming months due to the complexity of the system. Outside the top 20? Top 30? A free fall is all within the realm of possibility now.
Part of the problem is, Woods just doesn't play that much. The world rankings use a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments whether you've played that many times or not. That's averaging 20 tournaments a year, which Woods barely does, once you add in the handful of tournaments he plays away from the PGA Tour. As of this week, Woods has teed it up in just 35 tournaments that award world ranking points in the last 24 months.
So, the theory goes, if Tiger played in more tournaments, he would earn more world ranking points since he almost always makes the cut. Since Tiger doesn't play as often as most other top-tier players, he has fewer chances to earn those precious points.
After the Players Championship, no player in the world had lost more world ranking points (156.979) than Woods in 2011. No one in the top 16 had gained as few as Woods (42.801) this season. That doesn't bode well for Woods if he wants to return to his place atop the game of golf.
Could he get on a hot streak and win a bunch of tournaments to replace all those wins? Of course. We're talking about a 14-time major winner here.
But with that balky knee injury that has resulted in him playing just nine competitive holes since the Masters in early April, the possibility of a return to the top 10, much less No. 1 in the world, seems unlikely any time soon.
Kevin Maguire is the senior golf editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Kevin.Maguire@espn.com.
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