SHENZHEN, China – The HSBC Champions lost some star power when Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods decided to skip the World Golf Championship event — much to the disappointment of the tournament backers.
For the other top golfers in the field, however, the absence of McIlroy, in particular, represents a chance to make up ground in the European Tour money list.
Giles Morgan, global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC, said he was "disappointed" that No. 1-ranked McIlroy and Woods, a 14-time major winner, are skipping the HSBC Champions after playing elsewhere in Asia.
"To have a World Golf Championship in Asia is really important for the sport, to balance the sport out, and to grow," Morgan said. "And because it's a World Golf Championship event, it requires the best players to be here."
McIlroy and Woods chose to play in a lucrative, head-to-head exhibition event in the Chinese city of Zhengzhou on Monday, a day after competing in tournaments in Shanghai and Malaysia.
Instead of coming to Mission Hills this weekend, McIlroy is in Bulgaria to watch his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, play in the WTA's Tournament of Champions, while Woods is making a trip to Singapore for corporate commitments.
McIlroy is next scheduled to play in the Barclays Singapore Open from Nov. 8-11 and will then be aiming to defend his title at the Hong Kong Open the following weekend.
"I think the feeling is — and it seems to be among media and a lot of other people with the stakeholders, not just us as the sponsors — well, if they're in China and there's a World Golf Championship, this would be a good event to be at because it's a WGC, but a WGC in Asia, which helps elevate the game," said Morgan, adding that both golfers apologized to him privately for missing the event.
Ernie Els also said lamented that the game's two biggest names weren't there.
"You know, you can't play every week. You can't play everywhere," the reigning British Open champion said. "I don't know why they are skipping because it's a wonderful event. It's unfortunate they are not here."
But other players sensed a good opportunity.
McIlroy is trying to match Luke Donald's feat from last year by topping the money lists on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season.
The Northern Irishman, who captured his second career major at the PGA Championship in August, has already secured the PGA Tour money title with just over $8 million, but his lead on the European money list shrank to just over $1 million after Sweden's Peter Hanson captured the BMW Masters in Shanghai last weekend.
Hanson can pass McIlroy by taking home the $1.2 million first prize at the HSBC Champions. Third-place Justin Rose also has a chance to pass McIlroy.
Hanson said after his win in Shanghai that McIlroy's absence in Shenzhen gives him a chance "to close the gap even more."
"Hopefully, I can keep this form going and be up there again Sunday because I will need to keep playing like I did last week to have a chance of catching him, given how well he is playing this year," said the Swede, who has won twice on the European Tour this year and jumped to 17th in the rankings after beginning the year at No. 42.
Rose, who won the European money title in 2007, lost ground in Shanghai, finishing tied for sixth spot while McIlroy finished second.
He now trails McIlroy by $1.15 million and, after the WGC, is not planning to play again until the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
"To give myself a chance — that's the goal this week, really is to give myself a chance going into Dubai," Rose said. "But also I'm in Rory's hand to a certain extent and I have to win this week to give myself that chance. So, yeah, from the Road to Dubai perspective, to keep that interesting, it's a very important week this week."
The field at Mission Hills is strong despite the absence of the two players at the top, with seven of the world's top 10 golfers playing, including Donald, Lee Westwood and Australian Adam Scott.
Two-time champion Phil Mickelson also is in the field, along with U.S. Ryder Cup teammates Keegan Bradley and Bubba Watson.