Freak injury puts Coceres on sidelines

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The Independent Online

Jose Coceres and Phil Mickelson are the only of last year's winners on the PGA Tour to miss the season-opening Mercedes Championship which starts here today.

Coceres, of Argentina, a two-time winner on the tour last year, broke his arm playing football with friends and will be out for at least six weeks. That leaves 32 players in the field, including the world Nos 1 and 2, Tiger Woods and David Duval, and the defending champion, Jim Furyk. Mickelson previously told tournament officials he wanted to be home with his family during the holidays. The Mickelsons have a two-month-old daughter.

Coceres was the success story in America last year. A 38-year-old who learned to play using sticks and rocks for his equipment and made his name on the European Tour, he won at Hilton Head in a play-off, then held off Davis Love III to win at Disney.

The injury occurred four days before Christmas at his home town of Cardales, where Coceres and a group of friends often meet in a field and play football. "Jose thought he was 20 instead of 38 and charged the ball more aggressively than he should have," his agent, Robert Gutierrez, said yesterday. "He apologises to everybody. He knows he can't go to the Tournament of Champions, and that it's not easy an easy tournament to get into every year."

Gutierrez said Coceres suffered a hairline fracture in his lower left arm and will be in a cast for three weeks. He hopes to return in time for the Nissan Open in February, which would give him one tournament to get ready for the Match Play Championship.

Mickelson, meanwhile, continues his longest break from golf. He last played the NEC Invitational at Firestone, where he tied for eighth. That was one week after David Toms beat him with a 12-foot putt on the final hole of the US PGA Championship.

Mickelson skipped the Tour Championship after his second daughter was born, and does not plan to return until later this month.

Woods is the favourite to win his third Mercedes Championship in just six attempts. As the purse is in excess of $4m (£2.8m) it is a prestigious tournament with which to open the season. It also boasts one of the finest finishing holes.

"Home" is a downhill, downwind par five measuring 663 yards. Despite its length it is made reachable in two by the assisting winds and slope. In 2000, Woods and Ernie Els both made eagle threes to take it to a sudden-death play-off. Woods eventually won with a 40-foot putt on the second extra hole.