By Mark Lamport-Stokes
THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - The conspicuous absence of tournament host Tiger Woods from this week's Chevron World Challenge was a major talking point for the players as they prepared for Thursday's opening round.
World number one Woods pulled out of the event on Monday, citing injuries from a mysterious car crash outside his Florida home last week, and his non-attendance here was described as a bitter disappointment by his peers.
"It's a real shame," European number one and world number four Lee Westwood told Reuters on the putting green at Sherwood Country Club on Tuesday.
"It's a shame for the tournament, a shame for the sponsors and a shame for Tiger because I'm sure he would have liked to be here.
He was cited for careless driving by the Florida Highway Patrol earlier on Tuesday and Padraig Harrington, a winner of three majors, conceded he had been intrigued by the level of news coverage sparked by Woods's car accident.
"I'm like every other person, when I'm at home I read about the soccer players and I read all the gossip and everything that's going on," the Irishman said. "You get drawn in by it.
"But I've been on the other end of that stick and it's amazing how things can generate and build up."
Asked what impact four-time champion Woods's absence would have on the 18-man event, Harrington replied: "I think it's going to take away from the tournament the first couple of days.
"But as the tournament progresses, I think it'll be more about who's playing well and who's trying to win. The tournament will evolve very nicely. But Tiger is the biggest star in the game. It's his event and he's going to be missed."
U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover described Woods's absence as unfortunate but said he fully understood the world number one's decision to stay at home this week.
"He's got some personal stuff he needs to attend to, and more power to him," American Glover told Reuters. "He needs to take care of himself and we are happy his foundation has put the tournament on and is having us all here.
"I just hope that he heals up and gets better because we look forward to seeing him in 2010."
Although Woods will not be present at Sherwood to host his own event for the first time in a decade, the elite field is a strong one and features 11 of the world's top-20 players.
Proceeds from the invitational event go to Tiger Woods Foundation projects and the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim.
The full field is: Stricker, Westwood, Harrington, Paul Casey, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Martin Kaymer, Ian Poulter, Cink, Sean O'Hair, Glover, Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Zach Johnson, Yang, Mike Weir, Justin Leonard and Graeme McDowell.
(Editing by Ian Ransom)