Sawgrass rivals deny Woods' absence lifts victory expectations

Although the absence of Tiger Woods from this week's Players Championship– which starts today – will be severely felt by the fans, his rivals at Sawgrass say their preparations have been unaffected.

"It wasn't a topic of conversation in the round of golf that we played today," Phil Mickelson, the defending champion and world No 2, said.

Another American, the seventh-ranked Jim Furyk said: "I don't think we look at this event and say, 'He's not here, now I have a better chance of winning.' You worry about yourself and your own game and getting yourself ready. I'm not really looking at the field. I'm thinking about what the golf course plays like and what I will have to do to get my game in shape to play this golf course."

Woods, champion in 2001, is still recovering after undergoing knee surgery and may not return to the PGA Tour until next month's US Open.

Padraig Harrington, the Open champion, said that Woods' absence had no bearing on his own build-up. "If it comes down to it on Sunday and you're playing the 18th hole and you're a shot behind or a shot ahead, it doesn't really make any difference who's on the other side of the tee," the Irishman said.

"It's going to be just as hard to beat that player as anybody else because if they're there, they're probably playing the best golf of their life."

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