Despite Woods’ absence, his event goes on

A sign of Tiger Woods overlooks the 18th green at the Chevron World Challenge. Woods withdrew from the tournament citing injuries from his Nov. 27 SUV accident.

A sign of Tiger Woods overlooks the 18th green at the Chevron World Challenge. Woods withdrew from the tournament citing injuries from his Nov. 27 SUV accident.

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – On the one hand, you could say Tiger Woods’ Thanksgiving weekend has turned the proceedings here at Sherwood Country Club into a Hollywood soap opera – which is perfect, given the locale just north of Tinsel Town.

But if you choose to focus on the golf – OK, so that’s not such an easy task – well, let the record show that Woods’ Thanksgiving weekend has turned the Chevron World Challenge into the Sony Open, the Bob Hope Classic, St. Jude Classic, Travelers Championship, Viking Classic . . . you know, just another one of those tournaments that doesn’t get the world’s greatest player.

photo

Greg McLaughlin talks to reporters at Sherwood Country Club on Dec. 1.

That twist was thrown at Greg McLaughlin. He now knows how all those tournament directors who for years have been unable to lure Woods must feel. The tournament director of the Chevron World Challenge, who also happens to be president and chief executive of the Tiger Woods Foundation, McLaughlin forced a smile, bowed his head and did his best to put a great spin on what has unfolded since Woods announced Monday that he would skip the tournament.

McLaughlin explained that he’s been involved in running golf tournaments since 1988, “when Tiger Woods wasn’t playing (PGA Tour) golf,” and he’s run perhaps 30 of them. “Some with him, some without, and he certainly makes an impact,” McLaughlin said.

“But you have to assume that with a $5.75 million purse, plus World Ranking points, (these players) are taking it seriously. These are great players.”

No argument there, not with five of the world’s top 10 and 11 of 20 assembled in the serenity of the hills north of Los Angeles. The only thing is, what have tournament directors said for years, that there are two types of tournaments – those with Tiger and those without Tiger.

Well, even though the Chevron World Challenge has Tiger Woods’ signature all over it, even though his foundation benefits financially from it, even though these are all his sponsors . . . for this week it’s just another one of those tournaments without Tiger. And that is why the whole thing is so surreal out here and why it doesn’t figure to change much, even when all those great players start playing for real.

photo

Padraig Harrington at a press conference Dec. 1 at the Chevron World Challenge.

“I think it’s going to take away from the tournament,” Padraig Harrington said. “(Look), we’re talking about Tiger not being here (and not golf).”

But even on a day when reports of another tabloid publishing damaging news about Woods’ personal life surfaced and the golf star was to be fined $164 for careless driving after an investigation into his Friday morning crash, players at the Chevron World Challenge tread carefully when asked about Woods’ absence.

“It’s very difficult for me to comment because I only know what you know,” Lee Westwood said.

“I probably know less than anybody else,” Stewart Cink said. “So I really don’t know what to say.”

Walking past reporters, Mark O’Meara – arguably the PGA Tour colleague who goes back the furthest with Woods – simply shook his head after taking part in a pro-am at Sherwood CC.

“I’m like Colonel Klink,” O'Meara said. “I know nothing.”

For the record, we should extend O’Meara a mulligan, because it was Sergeant Schultz who always used that for his defense. But the point is, players aren’t overly eager to throw themselves into the dominating storyline out here. At least not on the record, and their reasoning is understandable. After all, so little is known about the bizarre incident last Friday, what purpose can be served by passing judgment?

But off the record? Well, a handful of players expressed surprise that Woods did not go through with his commitment to a tournament that means so much to him personally, that it outweighs the media scrutiny he would be subjected to, scrutiny that is going to be there no matter when he comes out.

This tournament benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. It was provided the better date by the PGA Tour that he lobbied for. It carries with it significant World Ranking points, which is something he also very much wanted. His face is emblazoned on posters everywhere, and if crowds are thinner than in years past, it will mean less money for the charitable organizations that man the concession stands. When in 2008 he needed a sponsor to step forward, Chevron did so, and they’re now 0-for-2 with Woods, as he missed last year in the aftermath of knee surgery.

We can safely assume that Chevron officials have to be either disappointed, upset or feel snake-bitten. Whatever their emotions, we are left with two realities:

One, Woods is still at his Florida mansion with bigger worries than how to beat 17 other players in a golf tournament. And two, folks running the Chevron World Challenge have to put on a good face and act like the 18 players assembled are worth talking about more than the one who isn’t here.

If McLaughlin needs someone with whom to commiserate, a whole lot of tournament officials are available and have the necessary experience.

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