Red-hot Tiger Woods heads the field that will begin play Thursday at the TPC at Sawgrass, but gone are potential Sunday showdowns with the second- and third-ranked players in the world.
Els pulled out with a right wrist injury while Mickelson withdrew, citing the need to be with his wife and newborn son. The child, Mickelson's third, was born Sunday.
Even Woods is not a guarantee. On Sunday, he had heaves on three of the first five holes in the final round of the Bay Hill Invitational because of a bout with food poisoning, and still won the event by 11 strokes.
On Monday, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark withdrew. He is at home with his wife awaiting the birth of twins.
The Players Championship is among the most prestigious events on PGA Tour, and is often referred to as the fifth major.
Els, who won the first two PGA Tour events of the year and has four titles in 2003, suffered his injury punching a bag in his garage in London.
Mickelson has not played since the Match Play Championships in early March. According to a release issued by Mickelson after the birth of the child, there were some complications with the delivery, but both mother and baby are now doing well.
The tournament begins Thursday at TPC at Sawgrass at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Woods, the defending champion, who won by a similar 11-shot margin in 2002.
Padres claim Merloni from Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla., March 25 (UPI) -- The Boston Red Sox lost infielder Lou Merloni on Tuesday when he was claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres.
The native of Framingham, Mass., hit .247 with four homers and 18 RBI last season. He was hitting .200 in 30 at-bats this spring.
"Lou is a good major league player and a good person," said Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein. "We thought the best thing to do would be to give Lou a (major league) opportunity. The Padres expressed some interest. We're happy that Lou ended up in a good spot."
"I'm excited and fired up," Merloni said through a pool reporter. "This is great for me personally. It's going to be tough (leaving the Red Sox), having grown up and played my whole career here. I have so many special memories and I've made so many friends here. The way the fans treated me was amazing. I have so many special memories. Being able to play with and watch guys like Pedro (Martinez) and Nomar (Garciaparra) and Manny (Ramirez) is something I'll never forget. It's been a great time."
The 5-10, 200-pounder has played parts of five seasons with the Red Sox, and has a career average of .271 with nine homers with 77 RBI.
He got an emotional goodbye from Garciaparra.
"Playing for a National League team, I'll get more playing time and I'm really excited," Merloni said. "Nomar knew what was going on. He called me to wish me luck."
Lindell off to Buffalo
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y., March 25 (UPI) -- The Seattle Seahawks have decided not to match the offer sheet extended to free agent placekicker Rian Lindell by the Buffalo Bills.
His agent, Paul Sheehy, confirmed that Lindell will get a little over $4 million over four years. Lindell had a breakthrough season in 2002, when he 20-of-32 field goals. In his three years in the NFL, he has never missed an extra point.
Lindell does not sound like he's sorry to be leaving the Seahawks.
"It's not breaking my heart that I'm leaving (Seattle)," Lindell told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Lindell was 58-of-78 in his career with Seattle. In 2001, he made just 6-of-14 kicks between 40 and 49 yards, and last season, he was the only kicker in the NFL not to have touchback on a kickoff.
The Seattle Times reported that possible placekicker candidates include Michael Husted (free agent, Kansas City), Steve Christie (free agent, San Diego), and Neil Rackers, a restricted free agent from Cincinnati who would cost Seattle a sixth-round draft pick.
Claiborne now a Viking
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn., March 25 (UPI) -- Linebacker Chris Claiborne, who led the Detroit Lions in tackles each of the last two seasons, has signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings.
Terms were not disclosed, but the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Claiborne accepted a two-year deal worth $5 million, including a $750,000 signing bonus.
Claiborne, the ninth overall pick in the 1999 draft, is expected to start at strongside linebacker, and is considered a long-term replacement for middle linebacker Greg Biekert.
Claiborne was a consensus All-Rookie choice in 1999 after winning the Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker while at Southern California.
In four NFL seasons, Claiborne has 534 tackles, including 145 last season. He had three interceptions and 4 1/2 sacks, both career highs, in 2002, and returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown against the Vikings.
Darius signs one-year franchise tender
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., March 25 (UPI) -- Safety Donovin Darius, the anchor of the Jacksonville Jaguars' secondary, signed the club's one-year tender offer Tuesday as a franchise player.
By signing the deal, Darius will be paid as one of the top five players in the league at his position, or at least $3.04 million for this coming season.
Darius, 27, has been a starter for the Jaguars at strong safety since being drafted in the first round out of Syracuse in 1998. Last season, the 6-1, 214-pounder finished third on the team with 69 tackles while also collecting one interception and a sack.
A physical player, Darius has played in 71 games in his career - all starts - and is second in club history with 500 tackles. He also has amassed eight interceptions and a touchdown.
Jacksonville, which went 6-10 in 2002, has made a committment to defense this offseason under new Coach Jack Del Rio. The club has signed defensive end Hugh Douglas and linebackers Mike Peterson and Keith Mitchell.
The Jaguars on Tuesday also agreed to terms with restricted free agent linebacker Bobby Brooks, who played in three games last season, primarily on special teams.
Daniels gets extension at Fullerton
FULLERTON, Calif., March 25 (UPI) -- Cal State Fullerton has renewed the contact of men's basketball coach Donny Daniels through the 2004-05 season.
Financial terms were not disclosed.
The 2003-04 season is the remaining year on the four-year contract Daniels signed when he was hired on April 20, 2000.
The Titans were 10-19 overall and 8-10 in the Big West Conference this season, but were beset by a series of injuries.
While suiting up as few as seven players for some games at midseason, Fullerton State reached double-digits in wins for the first time in four years.
"I feel really good about what is happening in the program," said Athletic Director Brian Quinn. "Donny has it headed in the right direction and we are really pleased."
Daniels owns a 20-64 record at the school.
DuPuy rules on penalties
NEW YORK, March 25 (UPI) -- Major League Baseball President Bob DuPuy addressed a number of penalty-related issues Tuesday, upholding the sentence handed down to Florida's Brad Penny but reducing the suspension given to Montreal's Vladimir Guerrero.
Penny and Guerrero were involved in a benches-clearing brawl on March 10 after the Marlins' starter beaned the Expos' slugger. Penny was hit with a five-game suspension, Guerrero was suspended three games and Montreal infielder Jose Macias, who joined the altercation, was hit with a two-game ban.
Tuesday, Dupuy upheld Penny's sentence, which is set to begin March 31. Guerrero agreed to drop his appeal and in turn had his suspension reduced to two games. He will begin serving his suspension on March 31.
All three players were fined.
DuPuy also reduced the sentence handed down to Los Angeles' Guillermo Mota, who was involved in a brawl with the New York Mets' Mike Piazza on March 12. Mota initially was suspended five games but had his sentence reduced to four games Tuesday.
Piazza appealed his five-game ban.
Decathlon great Voss retires
SCHWERIN, Germany, March 25 (UPI) -- Torsten Voss, a German decathlon star who went on to a successful career as a bobsledder, announced his retirement Tuesday.
Voss, who turned 40 on Monday, said he wanted to spend more time with his children. He will continue to work as coach to Dennis Leyckes, who was a decathlon junior world champion in 2000.
"Since last autumn I have been wondering about this step," Voss said. "I think that 40 years is the right age for this step. I hope I will have more time for my family and two children."
Voss was the decathlon world champion in 1987 before collecting a silver medal for East Germany at the 1988 Summer Olympics.
In 1993, he finished second in the German Championship before switching his attention to bobsledding. He earned a bronze medal at the 1995 World Championships in the four-man bobsled.
Two years later, he won World Championship silver before winning the European title in 2001.
Two more named to U.S. Fed Cup team
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., March 25 (UPI) -- Meghann Shaughnessy and Alexandra Stevenson have been named to the U.S. team that will face the Czech Republic in the first round of the 2003 Federation Cup.
Czech Republic captain Petra Langrova has until Apri1 6 to name her team members for the match, scheduled for April 26-27 in Lowell, Mass.
"Meghann is carrying great momentum into this event with a terrific run at the Australian Open and we're excited about Alexandra's debut as a U.S. Fed Cup rookie," King said. "The quest for the 2003 Fed Cup will be challenging, but with the top players in singles and doubles in Serena and Venus, and the solid performances of Meghann and Alexandra, we are starting with a strong team against the Czech Republic."
Shaughnessy, 23, has won three WTA titles, and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2003 Australian Open. She will compete in her third Fed Cup, while Stevenson, 22, will appear for the first time.
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