Mickelson joins the American absentees

Most of the top United States players have again shunned the American Express World Championship, which starts here on Thursday.

Most of the top United States players have again shunned the American Express World Championship, which starts here on Thursday.

The first prize may be $1m (£690,000), with a total purse of $5m, but Phil Mickelson, now up to a best-ever third in the world rankings after his victory over Tiger Woods in the Tour Championship in Atlanta on Sunday, has confirmed he will not be coming to Europe in an attempt to add to his $5m earnings for the year.

Mickelson handed Tiger Woods a rare final-round disappointment at East Lake on Sunday when he fired a four-under 66 to beat the world No 1 by two strokes and win the Tour Championship. In picking up his fourth tournament victory of the year, Mickelson emulated Ed Fiori as the only golfer to deny Woods a victory when he had either held or shared the lead going into the final round.

Mickelson finished with rounds of 77 and 78 at Valderrama last year, when tied for 40th of the 62 starters. He was also on the American losing Ryder Cup side there in 1997.

Davis Love, with nearly $15m earnings during his career, is not returning to the Costa del Sol course either. He lost all of his four Ryder Cup matches there three years ago and could finish only 16th in this tournament last year.

Included on a list of scratchings now in double figures are David Duval and the Major winners Hal Sutton, Tom Lehman, Paul Azinger, Fred Couples and Greg Norman, while Jim Furyk is injured.

To the relief of the sponsors and his fans, Woods will return to defend the title he won last November by defeating Miguel Angel Jimenez in a sudden-death play-off. The difference between winning and losing that play-off was $600,000, but second prize this year has been increased by 25 per cent to $500,000 in an attempt to attract the best with a generous reward even if Woods wins the tournament.

It has not worked and the idea of bringing all the world's top players to one place for an end-of-season showdown has yet to become a reality. The no-shows are likely to be even greater in two months' time at the Andersen Consulting World Match Play Championship, another event with $1m for the winner.

* In Cuba, the Scot Andrew Raitt carded a closing 70 to take joint second place in the Challenge Tour Grand Final, which secures his card for next year's main tour. The 31-year-old from Walton-on-Thames finished on the 13-under-par total of 275, five behind the Swedish winner Henrik Stenson.

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