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Worlds Best Test Harding Park

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Tiger Woods is playing. So, too, is Vijay Singh. And Phil Mickelson. And just about every other player in the top 50 in the world.
 
But the headliner for this weeks World Golf Championships-American Express Championship may well be Harding. Not the suspect 29th President of the United States. But the restored municipal course in San Francisco, Calif.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' ribs may be the difference between a fourth AmEx win or just another top-10.
Harding Park is the site of the final individual WGC event of the season. The venue was opened in 1925, and at the time was considered among the best public courses in the world. But over time, apathy led to neglect and the course became more cow pasture than championship venue.
 
Then came Sandy Tatum. The Bay area resident and former USGA president led a restoration campaign that helped transform the layout into what it is today.
 
What it is is a 7,086-yard gem that sits along Lake Merced. But what the public sees on a daily basis is not what will greet the field this week.
 
The course is normally a par-72, but it will be reduced to a par-70 as the ninth (474 yards) and 12th (475 yards) holes will play as par-4s instead of par-5s. The fairways, which usually measure as wide as 35 yards, will average 25-28 yards. The rough, typically 2 inches, will reach nearly 4 . And the greens will measure nearly 12 on the Stimpmeter, as opposed to the normal 8 or so.
 
When the WGC was formed in 1999, it was done so to create a global competition between the best players in the world. But the series has been anything but worldly.
 
The American Express Championship, which is on offer to the top 50 players on the Official World Golf Ranking and select money winners from around the world, is the only one of the three individual WGC tournaments that has avoided establishing American roots.
 
The Accenture Match Play has been played every year but once at La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. And the NEC Invitational has been contested every year but once at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
 
On the other hand, the first two editions of the AmEx were held at Valderrama Golf Club in Andalucia, Spain. The 2001 tournament was to be held at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., but was canceled in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The 2002 and 2004 editions were held at Mount Juliet in Kilkenny, Ireland. And the 2003 event was played at the Capital City Club in Woodstock, Ga.
 
The venues have varied over the years, but there has been one constant ' Tiger Woods' domination.
 
Five for the Title:
 
Tiger Woods
Woods has won 10 of the 20 WGC tournaments in which he has played, including the World Cup team event. Three of those wins have come in the AmEx. He won the inaugural tournament in 1999 and again in 2002 and 2003; thats three wins on three different courses. The two times he didnt win, he was tied for fifth in 2000 and ninth a year ago. He should once again be a factor ' if hes up to it. Woods has been resting since the Presidents Cup, allowing his sore ribs a chance to heal. He played Harding Park as a child and in college, but this will be his first trip since the redesign.
 
Chris DiMarco
Chris DiMarco is riding an emotional wave after his Presidents Cup performance.
Chris DiMarco
When DiMarco won a crucial singles match against Stuart Appleby in the 2003 Presidents Cup, he felt like it would spur him on to more PGA Tour victories. It didnt. When he led the Americans in points earned at the 2004 Ryder Cup, he felt the same. It didnt either. Now, after going 4-0-1 in the 05 Presidents Cup and making the Cup clinching putt, he again believes this will be the springboard to more titles. Well see. As confident as ever (and thats saying something), DiMarco is looking to end his three-year winless drought on tour this week at Harding Park, which benefits precision and putting more so than power.
 
Vijay Singh
Singh amazingly has never won a WGC event. He tied for second in this event two years ago, and tied for third in this years NEC. He is trying to put behind him a miserable performance at the Presidents Cup, where he went 0-2-3.
 
Michael Campbell
If this was the Accenture Match Play, Campbell may have been the favorite. He won the HSBC World Match Play three weeks ago and then was magnificent at the Presidents Cup. He posted a combined 7-1-1 record in those two events. Campbell has plenty of confidence at the moment and would love to win again on American soil.
 
Sergio Garcia
Garcia has won six times on the PGA Tour, including this years Booz Allen Classic, but he doesnt yet have that signature win. This would be it. Garcia took about a month off following a win on the European Tour. He used last weeks Chrysler Classic of Greensboro to sharpen his game, as well as to avoid a straight shot from Europe to the West Coast. He has four top-10s in five starts in this event.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine
 
Four more to keep an eye on
 
*Phil Mickelson, who is in search of his first WGC victory. It's late in the year, which means Mickelson usually isn't a likely candidate to win. But with this event being in his home state of California -- where he's won seven career tour titles -- he may have a chance.
 
*Thomas Bjorn, who was runner-up to Els last year. Bjorns brother lives in Oakland. He is one of only a handful of players to have seen the new Harding prior to this week. He is, however, trying to overcome an illness that forced him to spend three days in the hospital last week.
 
*Jim Furyk, who is seeking his first top-10 in this event. Harding Park may be well-suited for Furyks game. His success, however, may depend on his health. Like his Presidents Cup partner Woods, he is nursing sore ribs.
 
*Colin Montgomerie, who won last weeks dunhill links championship. Its a long trip from Scotland to San Francisco, but Monty should be riding high after his first victory of the season ' which came at St. Andrews, nonetheless.
 
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