Tiger Woods and Steve Williams at the Masters in April. It was the last major for Williams as Woods’s caddie. (HANS DERYK / REUTERS)

For the first time since January 1997, Tiger Woods has fallen out of the top 20 ranking of the world’s golfers.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, the media tour of fired caddie Steve Williams continued with Williams being asked about Woods’s chances of breaking Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships.

Of course, by Woods’s standards over the last 20 months, this stretch of bad news isn’t so awful. He can’t be surprised at his fall from eighth to 21st in the rankings; he fell from the top 10 in May and hasn’t played competitively since May 12 because of knee and Achilles tendon problems. He is, however, expected to announce this week that he will play in the upcoming WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

That tournament precedes the season’s final major, the PGA Championship that begins Aug. 11. Woods has 14 majors to Nicklaus’s record 18. Williams, who hasn’t been shy about talking about his firing by Woods, called it “a much greater challenge now.”

“He's still four short of tying it and five away from taking it. I know Tiger well obviously and there's no question over his desire to achieve it when he comes back to full fitness,” Williams said. “That's always fueled him. If anyone can do it, it's Tiger, there's no two ways about that.

“The difficult side of it is the calibre of players gets better and better every single year. As we move forward, the challenge is getting greater and greater. The last six majors have been won by guys who had never won one before. That's incredible.

“Take some of the great players, the Ernie Elses, the Phil Mickelsons, and go back to when they last won majors. They're hard tournaments to win. I'm not saying Tiger's not going to do it, because he's a special player. But the challenge five years ago seemed very do-able. It's a much greater challenge now.”