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.
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.
Oakland re-signs Wheatley
ALAMEDA, Calif., March 25 (UPI) -- The Oakland Raiders have veteran re-signed running back Tyrone Wheatley, who has served primarily as a backup to Charlie Garner over the last two seasons.
Terms were not disclosed.
Wheatley, 31, had 108 carries for 419 yards and two touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 71 passes last season in the NFL's top-rated offense.
The eight-year veteran signed with the Raiders in August 1999, and rushed for 936 yards that season. He followed that with a career-high 1,046 yards the following year, but his role diminished when the Raiders signed Garner as a free agent in 2001.
Wheatley, a 1995 first-round draft pick by the New York Giants out of Michigan, spent his first four seasons with them and often was hampered by injuries. The Miami Dolphins acquired Wheatley in April 1999, but cut him during training camp.
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.
Johnson to transfer from Charlotte
CHARLOTTE, N.C., March 25 (UPI) -- N.C.-Charlotte forward Kevin "Butter" Johnson has decided to leave the men's basketball team and intends to transfer to another school.
Johnson averaged 6.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game this season for the 49ers, who were 13-16. He started 10 of the first 12 games, but just two of the final 17.
"Obviously he feels the need to find a different situation, and I support his future endeavors," said N.C.-Charlotte Coach Bobby Lutz. "We wish him the best in his decision to pursue his college career elsewhere."
The 6-8 junior was a part of two NCAA Tournament teams, and averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in a career that spanned 89 games.
Johnson becomes the third player in a month to announce his transfer to another school. The others were 6-8 junior center Tory Reed from Cleveland, and 6-8 freshman center/forward Tyler Best from Lafayette, Ind.
Reed wants to return closer to his Ohio hometown to attend to family needs. Best cited a desire for increased playing time.
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.
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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