- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

SINGAPORE (AP) - Phil Mickelson’s quest for golf’s No. 1 ranking may have suffered a setback in China last week, but the Masters champion expects a stronger performance starting Thursday at the Singapore Open.

Mickelson finished tied for 41st in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, hurting his effort to overtake England’s Lee Westwood for the top ranking.

“I didn’t play the best last week but I seem to play better the second week of my two-week stretch and hope to put it together this week,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson said he hasn’t “played the way I liked to this year other than the win in Augusta,” and he faces another daunting field in the $6 million Singapore Open.

Fellow 2010 major winners Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer are among the 204-man field, as is defending champion Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari _ fresh off his one-shot win at the HSBC. Asia’s first major winner Y.E. Yang and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington are also in the mix.

Kaymer and Mickelson, ranked third and fourth, respectively, are vying for the No. 1 spot held by England’s Lee Westwood, who finished second in Shanghai in his first tournament atop the rankings.

Poulter, currently ranked 15th, also has designs on eventually claiming the No. 1 spot. The top ranking was out of reach in the years when Tiger Woods was at his peak, but now Poulter sees a window of opportunity.

“Everybody is now in the frame to push forward,” Poulter said. “With that in mind, anybody in the top 10 in the world has a good six months, can find themselves moving up the world ranking higher enough to contend for that No. 1 spot. And that’s something I’m aiming for.”

The field for the co-sanctioned European Tour and Asian Tour event will be spread over two courses this year, with one round at the tighter Tanjong course and three at Serapong. The number of players meant not all will be able to get in practice rounds.

“It isn’t ideal,” Poulter said. “I’ll walk out with my caddie and have a good look at it and that’s about all I get on the other course (Tanjong). Sometimes it works for you and sometimes it works against you. We’ve all played a golf course blind.”

Mickelson was glad to be playing in a city and a region where enthusiasm for the sport is growing.

“There are a lot of people playing golf in Singapore and Asia now and it is exciting to see the game grow because in the United States, it has not been growing and staying the same if not declining,” Mickelson said.

Kaymer was one player who was able to scout the course, noting there was little need for a driver, while the 3 woods and low irons will be out of the bag regularly.

“The long iron hitters are at a bit of an advantage this week so you have to be a good iron player,” Kaymer said.

McDowell, ranked No. 10, was less concerned with the course than the air that hung above it in the humid city-state.

“I’m trying to think of the last time I’ve played in a heat like this and it could well be in Singapore at this tournament last year,” McDowell said. “You really have to conserve the energy a little.”

After a midseason lull, Poulter’s play has picked up with a strong Ryder Cup showing, and he expects a strong title defense. Yang also started the year promisingly, getting a top 10 finish in the Masters, but has tailed off since.

“For many players, it would have been a successful year, but after the personal highs in 2009, it has been a bit disappointing, especially as I have not won on the PGA Tour, where I play the majority of my golf,” Yang said.

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