LOS ANGELES - Long established as world number one, Tiger Woods runs the risk of being deposed at the top of the rankings in the first quarter of next year.

The American has been out of action since having reconstructive knee surgery after winning the U.S. Open in June and, as a bystander, has watched his stranglehold at the top steadily loosen week by week.

The game's dominant player is unlikely to return to competitive golf until at least late February and his number one status could be usurped by Sergio Garcia, who trails Woods 3.865 points behind.

Vulnerable position
Ian Barker of Official World Golf Ranking, or OWGR, has examined projections of the rankings on a month-by-month basis leading up to the Apr. 9-12 Masters, where Woods is determined to compete.

"These projections show how, as time passes, Tiger's position at the top becomes more vulnerable," Barker told Reuters. "If you look at the March 29 projection, you will see I have input seven events and the number of points that Garcia and Harrington would need to pass Tiger's average on that date."

"Sergio needs 81 OWGR points from those events and Padraig Harrington needs 144," Barker said. "A WGC (event) will carry winning points in the 70s so it is possible for both players (to pass Woods) but I don't think either could do it without winning a big tournament."