You would think that the absence of three of the top 5 players in the world would invariably better the winning odds for most everyone else in the field of 156.
Those other two, of course, are Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Singh, Els and Goosen have combined to have little success in limited opportunities at Torrey Pines. Singh has played the tournament four times and is without a top-10. Els tied for sixth in his debut a year ago. And Goosen has never before made the trip to La Jolla, Calif.
On the other hand, Woods has eight top-10s in eight Buick Invitational starts, including seven top-5s and three victories. Mickelson also has three wins and seven top-5s in 13 appearances as a professional.
The two have combined to win five of the last seven editions.
This will mark the season debut for Woods. He blew off the Mercedes Championships in order to extend his period of rest following a hectic off-season. Hes the defending champion, having won by three strokes over Luke Donald, Charles Howell III and Tom Lehman a year ago.
Mickelson made his first tour start in three months at last weeks Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and tied for fifth in a tournament that he won in 2002 and 2004.
To say that these two are the favorites this week is an understatement. Instead, here are five other players capable of breaking the Woods-Mickelson monopoly.
Donald has finished runner-up in this event each of the past two years. In 2004, he and Chris Riley lost in a three-way playoff to John Daly. He then shared the 54-hole lead last year, before closing in 1-over 73 and again being relegated to second place. He also finished tied for seventh here in 03 and tied for 18th in 02. This will mark Donalds first event of the year ' on either the PGA or European tours. That could hinder his quest for the gold. In each his two silver medal campaigns, he had previously competed in the Sony Open, and had both times knocked off the winter rust by finishing in the top 20. Thats the bad news. The good news: he won his most recent Stateside start, the unofficial Target World Challenge in December. Donald shot 8-under 64 in the final round to turn a six-stroke deficit into a two-stroke victory.
Charles Howell III
Howell has only played in this event three times, but has a pair of top-10s. He tied for seventh in his 2003 debut and then was a part of the logjam for second last year. Howell entered the final round a year ago just one off the lead, and though he closed in 72, he had a chance to win up until the final hole. His 95-yard approach shot on the 72nd hole ' his third on the par-5 18th ' appeared to have gone in the hole for an eagle, but improbably caromed out of the cup and into the water, leading to a bogey. Howell tied for 53rd in his first start of the season at the Sony Open.
Before the 2002 tournament, the host South Course, which is contested three of the four rounds, was given a $3.2 million Reese Jones facelift. The layout was bolstered to more than 7,500 yards. And, fittingly enough, its last three champions ' Woods in 2003 and 05; Daly in 2004 ' have been bombers. That means Big Bubba should have an even greater advantage this week. Bubba Watson is averaging over 336 yards off the tee. Watson finished fourth in his first event as a tour rookie two weeks ago at Waialae County Club. Hes already about half way to retaining his card for next season. Also keep an eye on Charley Hoffman. Hes second on tour in distance at 322 yards per pop, and, being a San Diego native, he has the all-important California Connection (see below).
Just because the big boys have a big advantage on the South Course, the little guys cant be counted out. For example: Jose Maria Olazabal. Right after the venue received official Monster status, Olazabal stepped in a promptly won the 2002 tournament over J.L. Lewis and Mark OMeara ' neither of whom is noted as a long driver. Arron Oberholser ranked 145th in driving distance last year, but was inside the top 50 in driving accuracy and greens hit in regulation. He also has the California Connection in his favor. This event has been very kind to its native sons recently, with 10 of the last 14 champions having been born in the Golden State. Oberholser was born in San Luis Obispo and has two top-10s over the last three years in at Torrey Pines.