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Woods' indefinite break continues

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Rampant speculation on Tiger Woods' returning to golf at the Match Play Championship ended quietly Friday when the PGA Tour released its 64-man field minus the No. 1 player.

Woods did not meet the deadline for entering the Match Play Championship next week in Arizona, the tournament where he made his comeback a year ago from knee surgery.

The indefinite break goes on.

Woods announced Dec. 11 that he was stepping away from golf as he tries to salvage his marriage after confessing to infidelity. He has not been heard from since then, including the announcement Friday. He simply didn't enter by 5 p.m. EST.

Phil Mickelson already said he would skip next week to take a family vacation that previously was postponed due to his wife's treatment for breast cancer. That makes Steve Stricker the No. 1 seed when the tournament begins Wednesday at Dove Mountain north of Tucson.

It will be only the second time Woods has missed the Match Play Championship, which he has won three times. He was among several top players who did not compete in Australia in 2001.

"It will take away quite a lot from Monday and Tuesday," Padraig Harrington said. "But there will be a worthy winner. All the matches will create new things to talk about."

Tournament director Wade Dunegan said he has been working with several different plans for more than a year and concerned himself only with the 64 top players available who are coming.

"We never know until Friday who is going to play, and we're pleased to have the field we do," he said. "Tiger and Phil are missing for personal reasons, but every other top player is coming."

Woods' decision not to play was welcome news for Ross McGowan of England, who at No. 66 in the world will get into the $8.5 million tournament as the 64th seed.

The brackets will not be set until 7 p.m. EST Sunday. After that, anyone who withdraws until his tee time would be replaced by a list of alternates based on the world ranking. Barring any changes, the other top seeds will be Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk and Martin Kaymer.

Except for a photo last month that appeared to be Woods outside a sexual addiction clinic in Mississippi, he has not been seen since the middle-of-the-night car accident Nov. 27 outside his Florida home that set in motion a stunning chain of tabloid headlines that led to Woods admitting to extramarital affairs.

His agent, Mark Steinberg at IMG, has declined to confirm Woods' location since the accident.

A year ago, Woods issued a short release on his Web site that said, "I'm now ready to play again." There was no such announcement this time, despite widespread Internet gossip based on a story out of Australia that he would return at Match Play.

Accenture, the title sponsor of the tournament, was the first company to end its corporate endorsement of Woods.

The next possibility for Woods is the CA Championship at Doral in three weeks, the only World Golf Championship he has never missed. Other events in March include the Tavistock Cup (March 22-23), an exhibition among tour pros who belong to rival country clubs in Orlando, Fla.; and the Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 25-28), where Woods has won six times.

The Masters is April 8-11, although there is no guarantee that Woods will even return to the major he has won four times.

The Match Play Championship is single elimination with 18-hole matches until the 36-hole championship match. There are 24 Europeans in the field, followed by 20 Americans.

Barring anyone pulling out, Stricker would face McGowan; Westwood would play fellow Englishman Chris Woods; Furyk would play Scott Verplank; and Kaymer would play Chad Campbell.

Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy is the No. 10 seed and would open against Noren Alexander of Sweden.