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Spanish head for Riviera

The Nissan Open was expected to focus on homegrown talent. But the spotlight now will be on some international stars.

Spaniards Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia will be out to continue their success on American soil when the $3.7 million event begins Thursday at the newly restored Riviera Country Club.

The tournament lost a bit of its luster when Tiger Woods, who grew up in Southern California, withdrew earlier this week. Woods said he has been ill for two weeks and needs some time away from the golf course.

The Nissan Open was Woods' first PGA Tour event which he played as a 16-year-old amateur. It also is the only tournament he has played at least four times as a professional without winning.

"If Tiger was here it would be that extra spicy in the soup," Garcia said. "But I still think you have some great players and you have some players that have been playing great."

Woods settled for fifth place at last week's Buck Invitational, an event won by Olazabal with a 7-under-par 65 in the final round.

Coming off a fifth-place finish two weeks ago at Pebble Beach, Olazabal claimed his sixth career PGA Tour victory and the $648,000 first-place prize. Olazabal, who has 22 international victories, had not captured a PGA Tour event since the 1999 Masters -- his second career win at Augusta.

Garcia will play in his third PGA event of the year and his first in over a month. He captured the Mercedes Open in early January for his third career PGA title and was not in contention the following week at the Sony Open.

"You want to play well in the majors, but you still want to win every tournament you are in," Garcia said.

Other top international stars competing this week include Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Bernhard Langer.

American John Daly has enjoyed a career revival and will try to close in on a spot in the Masters this week. While winless since the 1995 British Open, Daly has finished fourth in his last two PGA starts. He is No. 40 in the world rankings with the top 50 after the Honda Classic from March 7-10 earning a trip to Augusta.

The defending champion is Australia's Robert Allenby, who won a six-man playoff, tying the PGA record for most players in extra holes. Allenby won by hitting a 3-wood in driving rain to set up a five-foot birdie putt.

The last repeat winner was Corey Pavin in 1994-95.

The par-71, 6,987-yard course has been returned to its original design by lengthening holes, enlarging several greens and adding other features.

First prize is $660,000.


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