Defending Champ Out But Masters Winner In

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AT&T ClassicDULUTH, Ga. -- The PGA TOUR moves from the TPC Sawgrass to the TPC Sugarloaf this week, where last week's winner at THE PLAYERS Championship, Phil Mickelson, has decided not to defend his title at the AT&T Classic.
 
Last year, when the tournament was named the BellSouth Classic, Mickelson successfully defended his 2005 title by sprinting to a 13-shot win at Sugarloaf a week before he won his second Masters title.
 
Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson
Phil Mickelson gets a fist bump from Zach Johnson during his 2006 blowout. (WireImage)
Like THE PLAYERS, this event was moved back in the schedule to give the TOUR a different May lineup in the weeks before the U.S. Open.
 
Mickelson, the new world No. 2 after his win on Sunday, isn't the only top-10 player who is skipping this week's event. Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and five of the other six top-10 players are also taking the week off.
 
Only No. 7 Henrik Stenson is in the field, where he will be joined by just three of the last 13 champions (Zach Johnson '05; Paul Stankowski '96; and John Daly '94).
 
The purse is $5.4 million, with $972,000 going to the winner.
 
As always, the GOLF CHANNEL will have coverage of the first two rounds and CBS will broadcast the weekend. Next week is the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial (the Colonial), where Tim Herron beat Richard S. Johnson in a playoff last year.
 
Next week, the TOUR will head on back to Texas for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. But here are the guys to watch out for this week:
 
Zach Johnson
The recently crowned Masters champion has been on a whirlwind tour of America since his victory, but will feel right at home this week in Georgia. Playing just a hop, a skip and a jump from Augusta, Johnson apparently has quite the feel for Georgia courses. His one other TOUR victory came here at the TPC Sugarloaf three seasons ago. He also had a runner-up finish here last year and is coming off a solid week at THE PLAYERS where he tied for 16th.
 
Henrik Stenson
Although he missed the cut in his only appearance last year, Stenson does come into the event as the highest ranked player in the field. The long-hitting Swede has played steady golf this year following his breakout win at the WGC-Match Play Championship, where he took down Aussie Geoff Ogilvy. He finished 23rd last week in Ponte Vedra Beach.
 
Peter Lonard
Lonard doesnt have a strong history at Sugarloaf, but he did manage to finish fifth in 2004. He has played this tournament three times, making the cut on each occasion. What may favor him most, however, is his recent form. The Aussie played quality golf last week at THE PLAYERS, tying for sixth. It was his best finish since a third-place showing earlier in the year in Mexico.
 
Stewart Cink
The Georgia Tech grad and Duluth resident is a local favorite. Hes had some success at Sugarloaf, but hasnt yet climbed into the winners circle. Cink has played this tournament every year since 1997 and has six top-10 finishes. His best result came in 1999, when he finished runner-up to David Duval. This may be his week to breakthrough (just like Dallas Scott Verplank did at the Byron Nelson). Cink has finished inside the top 5 each of the last two weeks, including a T3 at THE PLAYERS.
 
J.J. Henry
If not for Mickelson, the 2006 tournament would have gone right down to the wire, and Henry would have been in the mix. He closed in 4-under 68 to secure a tie for fourth, one back of runners-up Johnson and Jose Maria Olazabal. He also tied for ninth here in 03. Henrys length is an asset on the 7,343-yard layout.
 
Here are four other players to keep an eye on at TPC Sugarloaf:
 
Jonathan Byrd
After missing the cut in his AT&T debut in 2004, Byrd tied for 32nd in 05 and was solo sixth a year ago. If he continues to improve along those lines, he could be hoisting the trophy over his head this time around.
 
Rory Sabbatini
Sabbatini has made more headlines recently with his mouth than with his play. The South African has never had much success in this particular event, missing the cut five times in the last six years, but past results mean little to him. He had only made one cut at the Masters before this year and tied for second. He has three top-3s in his last four starts. And with no Tiger in the field, maybe he can keep his focus on his own game.
 
Charles Howell III
For the first time in five years, CHIII will tee it up in this event. He missed the cut way back in 2002, but did tie for sixth in 01. Hes certainly worth keeping an eye on this week.
 
Rich Beem
Beem was among the four unfortunate losers to Mickelson in the 2005 playoff. He returned last year and tied for 19th ' one of only four top-20 finishes on the season. He could use a good finish this week, as he hasnt broken the top 20 since the Nissan Open in February.
 
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    Information from The Sports Network was used in this story.