Mickelson the favorite at Tiger-less Torrey Pines

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

While left-hander Mickelson will launch his 2010 PGA Tour campaign at a venue where he has triumphed on three occasions, six-times winner Woods remains in hiding after admitting last month he had cheated on his wife.

Publicly embarrassed by tawdry revelations about his private life, Woods has given no timetable for his likely return to competition as he works on salvaging his marriage.

Although Torrey Pines is one of his favorite hunting grounds worldwide and was the scene of his remarkable playoff victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods will skip the San Diego event that has become his traditional season opener.

"It's tough not having him here," American Brandt Snedeker told reporters before playing a practice round on Tuesday.

"We all miss him because we all want to play against him and we want to beat him. That's why we all miss him. We don't do it very often, so when we do it, it's kind of special.

"He's got stuff to deal with and we'll welcome him back with open arms when he comes back," said Snedeker, who finished third behind Woods at Torrey Pines in 2007.

PGA Tour veteran Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in a thrilling 19-hole playoff for the 2008 U.S. Open, agreed.

"Any time he's not in the field, it's obviously not the best field we have," the 47-year-old American said. "You always want your best guy."

NEW JOB

Mediate felt Mickelson, who lives in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, would much prefer to have Woods in this week's field.

"Phil doesn't need a lot of push," Mediate said. "But if he wins five of the first six events and Tiger is not in the field, is it better to win five of the first six when Tiger is in the field? He (Mickelson) needs him in that field."

Ice-cool on a glorious day of bright sunshine, Watney birdied three of the last six holes on the picturesque South Course to edge out compatriot John Rollins by a shot.

Apart from second-ranked Mickelson, world number 15 Robert Allenby of Australia and 20th-ranked Ernie Els of South Africa are the only other members of the top 20 competing this week.

Other leading players at Torrey Pines include U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Britain's Luke Donald, twice a runner-up at the event.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)