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Woods set for Buick Invitational defence

Vijay Singh has set his sights on eclipsing Tiger Woods as world number one and can gauge his standing at this week's Buick Invitational when the two meet for only the second time this season.

Woods, defending champion at Torrey Pines Golf Club, has not played since the season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii while Fijian Singh, the game's hottest player, will be bidding to extend his remarkable run of top-10 finishes.

World number two Singh, who coasted to a three-shot victory in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Sunday, is just two away from the PGA Tour record of 14 consecutive top-10s, which was set by Jack Nicklaus in 1977.

The 40-year-old has strung together 20 top-10 places in his last 25 PGA Tour starts and will exude confidence when he tees off in Thursday's opening round at La Jolla, California.

"My goal is to go out there and just try to beat the field every week," said twice major champion Singh, who has won three of his last nine U.S. events.

"But I feel I've got to win more tournaments to get to number one. Finishing top 10 is not going to get me there."

Multiple winners Woods and in-form Phil Mickelson are likely to be Singh's main obstacles at Torrey Pines, a course suited to big hitters.

Twice champion Woods equalled the 72-hole tournament record of 266 when he clinched his first title there in 1999 while Mickelson, winner of last month's Bob Hope Classic, triumphed at Torrey Pines in 1993, 2000 and 2001.

The 28-year-old Woods defends his title after spending the last five weeks resting and working on his game.

"It's a long year, and I've become pretty good at pacing myself," he said on his official website. "No sense changing my routine now.

"I was very pleased with my start (in Hawaii). I didn't putt as well as I would have liked, but I hit the ball solidly. All in all, it was a good way to begin the year."

Woods, who failed to clinch a major title last year for the time since 1998, is relishing being back at a venue he knows so well.

"I practically grew up playing at Torrey Pines, but the North Course was lengthened to about 7,500 yards and is much more difficult than it used to be," he said. "You have no choice but to hit more drivers, and the greens are small and hard.

"It really has become a placement course, which wasn't the case before. You could just bomb away off the tee."

When Woods won at Torrey Pines 12 months ago, he was still recovering from knee surgery. This year, his left knee is sound and he is delighted with his improved length and accuracy off the tee with a new driver and four-piece ball.

"I'm hitting it a little bit further, which is great," he said. "The combination of the ball and the driver, I'm starting to get the ball out there, getting it out of my shadow."

Left-handed Mickelson, back in the winner's circle three weeks ago after a 19-month absence, has tied for seventh and placed third in his last two U.S. starts.

The former world number two says his enjoyment of golf has returned following hard work on his short game and fitness and believes he can mount a serious challenge at this year's majors.

"I am really very excited about this year," Mickelson told Reuters. "My balance is much better than it's ever been, and I'm driving the ball a lot better too.

"I think the biggest area, though, is mental. I'm working from a much more positive frame of mind."

The U.S. Masters, the first major of the year, is still two months away but the performances this week of Singh, Woods and Mickelson could lay down a few relevant markers.

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