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Europeans looking to shine at WGC event

European players, still basking in the afterglow of their runaway Ryder Cup victory over the United States, have a golden opportunity to shine at this week's WGC-American Express Championship.

World number one Vijay Singh, U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Canada's Mike Weir are absent and three-times winner Tiger Woods is a doubtful starter for Thursday's first round at Mount Juliet Conrad because of a shoulder injury.

"It's obviously disappointing that Vijay and Phil are not here, but it's understandable," Britain's Darren Clarke told reporters.

"But there's a fantastic field here. The European team at Oakland Hills was very strong and any one of these guys can win."

Rampant Europe beat the U.S. by a record 18-1/2 points to 9-1/2 two weeks ago and 10 of their 12-man team are playing in Ireland this week.

Should any of them triumph, it would provide a welcome boost for a continent that has not provided a major winner since Briton Paul Lawrie clinched the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie.

"It's not going to be that much longer before a European wins one," added Clarke who has won two WGC events, the Accenture Match Play in 2000 and last year's NEC-Invitational.

"You've got the likes of Sergio (Garcia), Padraig (Harrington) and hopefully myself up there. You've got Lee (Westwood) coming back to form and so many really good players that are coming through.

"Paul Casey finished sixth at Augusta (at his first U.S. Masters this year. That was a great result.

"You've got Justin Rose, who's getting more used to the PGA Tour over there, which is going to help him in his efforts to play more."

Englishman Westwood agreed.

"These things ebb and flow," he said. "A few years back they were saying there were no good English golfers coming through, and now all of a sudden we've got five on the Ryder Cup team.

"We were very successful as a continent at the end of the '80s, beginning of the '90s. We had our fair share of major champions and major victories. These things happen in spells and cycles."

Ireland's Harrington believes this week's tournament is anyone's to win, especially as the dominant Singh pulled out on Monday after his Florida home suffered hurricane damage.

Fijian Singh has won eight times on this year's PGA Tour, with five of them coming in his last six starts.

"The fact that Tiger hasn't dominated and the fact that Vijay isn't playing does open it up more to the players," said the 33-year-old Irishman.

"Everybody feels like they can compete and contend here. This is another big week and these world events are very special. A world event is just below a major."

Harrington added he hoped to draw inspiration from the two WGC wins achieved by his good friend Clarke.

"It's always a positive when a player you're familiar with wins a world event, a major or something like that," he said.

"I know Darren's game, and if I can see him win an event, it's easier for me to visualise myself winning an event."

The WGC-American Express Championship, being staged at Mount Juliet Conrad for the second time, gets under way from 1130 local (1030 GMT) on Thursday with a two-tee start.

Sixty-eight players are in the elite limited field which features 44 of the world's top 50.

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