AKRON, Ohio // Tiger Woods appeared unconcerned by the threat to his status which could see him deposed as world No 1 by either Lee Westwood or Phil Mickelson at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational which starts in Akron today. Mickelson could reach the summit for the first time with a top-four finish providing Woods is well down the field, but if he wins the tournament there is nothing Woods can do to prevent the end of his latest five-year reign.
Westwood, runner-up in the US Masters and British Open this season, has to finish first or second just to have a chance of overtaking the two Americans. As he searches for his first win since returning to the game in April following time out of the game to address his personal life, the 34-year-old faces a real threat. However, he refused to focus too much on the possibility of being dethroned, saying: "Am I conscious of the pack closing in? Yes, because every tournament you guys remind me.
"You play - how I got here was playing golf tournaments and winning golf tournaments." Woods last won a title at the BMW Championship in September 2009, two months before his life was transformed following revelations about his extra-marital affairs. He feels though that things are slowly coming together as he looks to claim his fifth consecutive Firestone title. "I've been through stretches when I haven't won and it's a matter of putting the pieces together and being patient, it's not something that happens overnight.
"I'm not one of those players who plays really badly and then really well. You start seeing trends and I've started to put things together and I am very excited." Neither is he surprised by the impressive form shown by Westwood who finished second at the Masters and the British Open. Woods said: "I've always enjoyed playing with Westy, he's a great guy. We've been going at it for a long time. "What he's done over the last couple of years - I always knew he had that talent and level of play, now he is showing it.
"Almost every big event we always seem to get paired together. We're going to have a good time." Woods, who also confirmed he will be playing at the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, has dropped out of the automatic qualifying positions for the Ryder Cup in October but hopes to cement his spot this week. He readily admits he is struggling with his putting, something he attributes to speed. He explained: "It has been off all year. I've three putted quite a few times which I don't do normally so I've had to go back to basics and practise a bit more. I haven't worked on it as much as I should have the last couple of years so I've had to go back to that."
While Woods has not practised to the same extent as before his break from the game, he believes things are settling down. "It's been more difficult this year than in years past with all the attention and questions and demands. I've had to alter a few things; they are normalising and this is a good sign. It's been a long 10 months." Westwood and Woods tee off at 1.50pm local time just ahead of Padraig Harrington and US Open champion Graeme McDowell.