There is no shortage of players keen to fill the gap left by Tiger Woods, but they are running out of opportunities as the CA Championship starting today at Doral, Miami, is likely be the last WGC event he misses this year. With Woods now back on the range and the US Masters just around the corner, it is a matter of time before the world No 1 makes his return. Suddenly it becomes a different ball game.
Tiger's dominance is underlined by the fact that he has won the CA Championship, the first WGC stroke play event of the year, six times in the 10 years it has been staged. In his absence, the likelihood is of victory going to a major winner again, with Phil Mickelson, defending his title in an event also won previously by Geoff Ogilvy, Mike Weir and Ernie Els. Doral's Blue Monster course is a good test for the best players in the world. There is normally a strong breeze blowing, placing a big emphasis on good shot making.
While the PGA Tour waits for the homecoming of its main attraction of the last 13 years, other tours are gaining in strength by promoting their own stars Asian players have made a huge impact over the past five years and the European Tour has been influential by developing co-sanctioned events with the Asian Tour. In the long run, the PGA Tour must do more to highlight the abundance of talent it has rather than rely so heavily on its golden goose.
No one is better equipped to challenge Tiger than Lee Westwood, the European No 1, who has been back to his best over the past two years and is eager to continue his climb up from No 4 in the world rankings. His consistent performances week in, week out will hold him in good stead when another opportunity to win a big one comes along, as it surely will. Lee has won only once in the US, back in 1998 in New Orleans. I remember Johnny Miller commenting at the time that he was one of the best young golfers he had seen and could not find one fault with his game.
On three occasions he has been within a single shot of making a play-off in a major championship. At the top level there is such a fine line between winning and falling short. The world of golf has an abundance of talent right now, with a strong crop of players who are all level headed, patient, mentally strong and good at making choices on the golf course. In order to win, no player can afford to have any weaknesses. Westwood is slowly improving his chipping and pitching which is the final obstacle separating him from greatness. He is clearly comfortable in the US, where he did so well on his first visit last year,
Rory McIlroy makes up for some deficiencies in his game with sheer brilliance. His course strategy has been coming up a little short, as shown by the fact that, while he has climbed into the world's top 10 he has won only once as a professional. The art of golf is to control the ego inside. For me, McIlroy takes the easy way out by going for everything and just accepting the consequences. The key is knowing when to be aggressive and when not to be, and this changes from day to day, depending on how well you are playing.
Truly great golfers understand this. They are stronger mentally, and while they are positive and have a belief in their ability and understand their strengths, they also acknowledge their limitations. Many players turn to psychologists to help them in their mental approach, although there is no substitute for a natural ability to cope with pressure. Ian Woosnam had that, and Ian Poulter has it now. At the same time, Poulter understands his swing and has made it his own, developing a lot of feel over the years as well as a great short game.
Now at No 5 in the world, he could do well this week if it is not too windy. But if the conditions are tough the longer hitters will have a big advantage. Few players hit it further than Paul Casey, who is making a good recovery after injury kept him on the sidelines for four months last year. He has strong claims for being recognised as the best match play golfer in the world, having reached the last two WGC Accenture finals and won the World Match Play title at Wentworth two years ago.
You can never count out Mickelson, who will be even more determined to complete back-to-back victories at Doral after failing to win on the West Coast swing, which has previously produced so much success for a player who grew up in California. Anthony Kim has been showing some good form. He is immensely talented, although he is said to have spent more time in the nightclubs rather than the driving range last year. The penny has dropped for Kim and I expect a lot from him as he swings the club well and hits the ball a long way, which is a big plus at Doral.
It could be another big week for Steve Stricker, the world No 2, who has found some consistency in his game. He is the best putter on Tour in Tiger's absence and the top player out there at present. Doral may be a little too early for Vijay Singh, but he has been finding form again after struggling with his fitness last year and having recovered from knee surgery the former world No 1 could soon be adding to his 34 Tour titles.
Former European and US Tour player Philip Parkin ( www.philparkin.com) is a member of the TV golf commentary team for the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. @Email:email@example.com