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Jay Busbee

Mickelson, Westwood paired to open HSBC Champions

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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So this is how the reign of Lee Westwood at No. 1 begins: a pairing with one of the guys who could take his crown.

Phil Mickelson and Westwood tee off Thursday to open the HSBC Champions at Sheshan International in Shanghai, China. Mickelson, the defending champion, will be working to dethrone the guy who swooped -- well, really, backed -- right in and grabbed the No. 1 spot after Mickelson tried and failed 12 different times to take it for himself.

Y.E. Yang will round out the grouping. In another marquee group, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Graeme McDowell will be playing. Also in the field: Martin Kaymer. And when the weekend is done, Westwood, Woods, Kaymer or Mickelson could be No. 1.

What a shame we've got this great battle for the top spot taking place in the dead of golf's offseason. The HSBC Champions event has a major-level field, yes, but this is a time when almost no one is paying any attention to golf. The timing of the event -- the players will be on the course when most of the United States is asleep -- won't help much. But if Woods or Mickelson is able to string together a few good days, there could be a lot more interest.

Let's just hope the rankings stay knotted like this right on through to next spring. One guy taking over a ranking from another who doesn't much seem to care isn't a whole lot of fun. Four guys fighting actively over a ranking -- well, that would make every week that much more interesting.

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