- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 3, 2010

SHANGHAI (AP) - The players and the props showed just how much the landscape of golf has changed at the HSBC Champions.

A year ago, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson sat across from each other in a mock game of Chinese checkers to kick off the festivities in this final World Golf Championship. They stood out as the top two players in the world. There was little argument about that.

Now it’s a lot more crowded.

This time, tournament organizers brought Woods, Mickelson, Lee Westwood and PGA champion Martin Kaymer to Shanghai’s riverfront in the famous Bund district. They were equipped with swords, and they struck a pose to celebrate the ancient Chinese martial art of tai chi.

It was a bit dramatic, but the point had been made.

Golf finally has a real battle for No. 1 in the world, and it figures to play out at Sheshan International over the next four days.

“It’s an interesting time for golf,” said Westwood, who ended Woods‘ record reign at No. 1 in the world. “It’s a lot more interesting when it’s more volatile with who can become world No. 1. Martin has obviously played very consistently just recently. Tiger and Phil have been at the top of the world rankings for a while, as I have myself. I think for the neutral (fan) who doesn’t normally watch golf, it’s captured their imagination.”

This used to be the time of year when players chase appearance money in exotic locations, wanting to win for pride but without the kind of pressure found during the summer.

That might not be the case when the HSBC Champions starts Thursday.

“It’s exciting, I’m sure, for the public,” Woods said. “But as far as the players are concerned, I think everyone still has the same focus, and that’s to win tournaments. That’s how we got into the position we’re at, how we got our ranking as high as the top four players in the world. We were able to win golf tournaments. That’s why we’re here doing that.”

Woods is no longer No. 1, nor has he looked like it for most of the year. He has gone 51 weeks and 12 tournaments without a victory, the longest drought of his career. At stake this week is trying to avoid getting shut out on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career. This also is the only World Golf Championship he has not won.

“I’ve come close,” Woods said. “Unfortunately, I just haven’t done it yet.”

He wasn’t particularly close last year, despite playing in the final group with Mickelson. Woods‘ game blew up on the front nine to fall from contention, and Mickelson held on for a one-shot win over Ernie Els.

Westwood hasn’t been playing much at all.

He put himself in position to be No. 1 by finishing second in the British Open at St. Andrews despite a calf injury that was affecting his ankle. Since then, Westwood has played only six rounds in stroke play and four matches in the Ryder Cup.

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