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Tiger seeking fourth title of 2003

Tiger Woods will be bidding for his fourth title of the year in just five starts at this week's Players Championship, a tournament he believes is the most prestigious after the four majors.

The world number one romped to victory by 11 strokes at last week's Bay Hill Invitational, despite battling a severe bout of food poisoning in the final round, and will be heavily fancied to win his 38th PGA Tour event come Sunday.

Woods played only nine holes at the Tournament Players Club (TPC) at Sawgrass on Tuesday, so as not to overexert himself, but has always felt comfortable on the Florida layout and will be determined to add a second Players crown to his 2001 triumph.

"I know TPC and how to play it," the reigning U.S. Masters and U.S. Open champion told reporters. "It's just a matter of getting a feel for the speed of the greens and fairways and that doesn't take long.

"I think we're going to be possibly playing lift, clean and place this's pretty soft up here.

"That just means the rough will be up, as always, real thick and lush and you've just got to keep the ball in play.

"I would love to win here for a second time, this is the highest tournament in the world next to the majors."

Woods will not have to contend this week with his two closest challengers in the game after world number two Ernie Els and third-ranked Phil Mickelson both pulled out.

Els withdrew from the event on Tuesday after injuring his right wrist two weeks ago while using a punching bag at his London home while Mickelson has decided to spend time with his family after the birth on Sunday of his third child.

"I'm disappointed that I cannot play this week," said British Open champion Els, who has won four titles this year in seven starts. "It is one of the premier events on the PGA Tour and I had been looking forward to it.

"But, given the soreness I felt earlier today, there was no way I could play."

The injury was a problem for the 33-year-old South African at last week's Bay Hill Invitational, where he carded a final round of five-over 77 and tied for 38th at even-par 288.

He had been expected to duel with Woods for the title, but ended up 19 shots behind the world number one, who won the tournament for the fourth year running.

It is not yet clear if Els's injury will keep him out of the first of the year's four majors, the U.S. Masters, which takes place at Augusta from April 10 to 13.

Another prominent player who decided to withdraw from this week's tournament was Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who is at home with his wife awaiting the birth of their twins.

The field for the Players, which is often referred to as the "fifth major", now stands at 146. Should that number drop below 144, Australia's Aaron Baddeley would receive an alternate's spot.


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