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Committee of winners takes Tiger's place

DORAL, Fla. - One of the billboards at Doral promotes this World Golf Championship with a familiar slogan and some familiar faces, a photo sequence of five players under the phrase, "The World is Watching." Tiger Woods is the center photo. He's the only one watching this week.

His presence, even after all this time away from the game, remains prominent.

It's hard to walk more than a few yards on the practice range at the CA Championship without hearing chatter about Woods. Players say very little publicly when asked about the absence of the world's No. 1 player, some choosing their words carefully, most saying they have enough to worry about with their own games.

Privately, they speculate and share the latest inside gossip on his return just as much as anyone else.

But as golf moves closer to the first major of the year - the Masters is a month away - Woods became a topic yesterday as much for his standard of golf as the reason why he's not at Doral.

The season began two months ago with speculation on who might fill the void left by Woods, with most of the focus on Phil Mickelson.

Instead, he has been replaced by committee.

Ten tournaments into the PGA Tour season, there have been 10 winners. Steve Stricker is the only player who was in the top 10 at the start of the year to have won anywhere in the world, his victory coming at Riviera.

"I think it's just a coincidence," Stricker said. "It always comes back to the depth of the tour, just how good these guys are, and how tough it is to win. How many multiple winners were there last year?"

He wasn't trying to make a point, only ask a question. The answer is seven - Woods, Mickelson, Stricker, Geoff Ogilvy, Zach Johnson, Kenny Perry and Brian Gay. Mickelson was the only player to win multiple times when Woods was in the field.

When he won at Riviera, it was Stricker's fourth victory in his last 15 starts, which computes to winning 27 percent of his starts.

Good stuff, until he realizes that it's still lower than Woods' winning rate of 30 percent for his career.

Take himself out of the mix and Stricker would favor Mickelson, the defending champion.

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