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USA start as favourites for World Cup

There is no Tiger Woods this time to defend the American colors at the World Cup and in his absence it's world No. 2 Phil Mickelson who shoulders the burden of team leadership.

Mickelson is paired with David Toms in a rematch of their successful Ryder Cup partnership and he says that the U.S. challenge should be just as potent.

"Tiger has played a lot in the last couple of months and you can only play so much golf," he said Wednesday of the World No. 1. "He and I spoke about it and I fully understand his position.

"But David and I complement each other well as we proved at The Belfry and if we play our best golf we will have our chances come Sunday."

Mickelson said that although the late timing of this year's World Cup meant several of the top players would not be present, he was looking forward to the challenge in what will be his first appearance in the event.

"It's not really the time of year that I am used to playing competitive golf, but that will make feel a little more relaxed and play a little more uninhibited," he said.

Mickelson and Toms will start as favorites to regain the title that Woods and David Duval lost last year in Japan in a four-team play-off to South Africans Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Neither Els nor Goosen have opted to travel to Mexico to defend their title and have been replaced by the inexperienced Rory Sabatini and Tim Clark.

Top European hopes Padraig Harringtonand Paul McGinley of Ireland will be in harness for the sixth consecutive year and although playing the best golf of his career, Harrington is aware that he is pushing his limits of endurance.

After finishing second in the European Order of Merit for the second straight year in Spain in early November, the Dubliner won the Asian Open in Taiwan before competing in South Africa and defeating Tiger Woods last Sunday to win the Target World Challenge event in California.

"I should be tired," Harrington said. "But I suppose it's just one more week now. I've got nine weeks off after that, so I'm just trying to stay focused and get through this week and not let it get to me.

"I think it's probbaly important to get a reasonable start in the tournament. It would help me a lot if I had some adrenaline for the week."

McGinley said that he was still on a high after sinking the putt that won back the Ryder Cup for Europe against the United States at The Belfry in September.

"It's been a whirlwind of activity, that's for sure. My life has been extremely busy since then," he said.

"Even coming here to Mexico, the Mexican people are saying 'Congratulations on the putt.' It's nice to be remembered for something positive like that."

Winners of the World Cup in 1991, the Irishmen said they have their chances to triumph again.

But they agreed that Mickelson and Toms apart, the team to look out for was Argentina with the experienced Eduardo Romero and Angel Cabrera both coming off splendid seasons and both suited to the open driving spaces of the Vista Vallarta course.

England hope Justin Rose said he was counting on his brother's prediction that he would win five tournaments in the course of the year.

In what has been a breakthrough year for him, Rose has already won four, but the fifth has proved elusive.

"I've had a couple of chances, but it has not quite happened. Maybe it could be a bit of a last-ditch effort. It would be a lovely way to finish off the year," he said.

The $3 million event which sees 24 pairings competing for golf's premier multi-national team trophy over four days of alternate fourballs and foursomes gets underway on Thursday.

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