Life without Tiger hits home with Match Play

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How much does golf miss the star power of Tiger Woods?

As is becoming more obvious with each passing week, too much.

After a flat six weeks to open the season, the Accenture Match Play Championship -- which begins Wednesday in the outskirts of Tucson -- was supposed to up the ante. The tournament brings together the world's top 64 players in an exciting knock-out competition.

Last year, the entire sports world tuned in to the Match Play because it was where Woods made his comeback from reconstructive knee surgery. Though it promptly tuned out after Woods lost in the second round to South African Tim Clark.

But Woods this week will be in Florida, trying desperately to mend bridges with his wife, Elin, after his well-documented infidelities. I expect him back sooner rather than later but, still, it won't be soon enough.

If you think I'm being too fatalistic, then take a look at the top four seeds for the Match Play.

Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood, Jim Furyk and Martin Kaymer.

Now, they're as pleasant a foursome as you could ask for: Westwood, in particular, is good company as you can discover by visiting YouTube and typing in, "Lee Westwood and Charlie." What's the over/under on adult beverages consumed prior to that little performance?

And there can be no question that they can all play golf very, very well. They are, after all, ranked two, four, five and six in the world.

But they're hardly golf's answer to John, Paul, George and Ringo, are they?

In truth, the first thought to jump into my head when I saw those names was how Hollywood has it right that some are destined for stardom while others were always going to be supporting actors.

The trick is to not confuse the two.

I've got to think that upon seeing that lineup of top seeds even NBC Sports executives were reaching for the remote. Suddenly, watching the curling from the Vancouver Olympics seems appealing.

The other problem with these top seeds is that they arrive at the Dove Mountain course with precisely one major between them: Furyk's 2003 U.S. Open at Chicago's Olympia Fields.

If you get top billing don't you need to have won a few big ones?

Now, it's true that Westwood's thrown a few away -- most recently, last year's "Tom Watson" British Open at Turnberry -- but unfortunately they don't count. In 17 years of teeing it up in majors, Stricker's got one runner-up finish and it came 12 years ago at the PGA Championship outside of Seattle.

Now, I follow golf for a living and even I had to do a double take when I saw Kaymer's name at the top of one of the brackets.

It's like Murray State getting a one seed in the NCAA basketball tournament.

The young German's a promising player but a no. 1 seed?

He's never made any kind of a noise in the United States and he's ranked higher than Aussie Geoff Ogilvy, who's the only player not named Tiger to have won this event twice (Woods has three wins) and possesses an overall 17-2 record?

I don't even know if Kaymer's going to get past Chad Campbell in the first round. It's pretty much an even-money proposition. And Campbell has the advantage of knowing the lay of the land. The Texan finished fourth in this tournament last time he qualified, which was 2007.

What would've at least given the tournament a little name recognition is having Phil in the field. Just like Salieri wasn't Mozart, he's not Tiger, but at least the masses have heard of him.

But Mickelson won't be there.

How is it that the world No. 3 skips one of the biggest events on the PGA Tour schedule? OK, perhaps not in terms of cache but certainly one of the biggest in terms of prize money, given that Accenture's splashing $8.5 million in the pot for 64 players to share.

Turns out that Phil's busy. He's taking his wife and kids on a family vacation this week.

Is that not an indictment of how much money there is in golf? If Gary Player were dead, he'd be rolling in his grave. He once told me -- at length, which is the only way he speaks -- that if in his day he'd heard there was a tournament offering $50,000 in prize money, he'd "row across oceans" to enter.

Phil wouldn't have to row anywhere. He could jump in his Gulfstream jet and commute back and forth from his home in San Diego if he was so inclined. But he's not.

Mickelson says he had to skip the event because his wife was receiving treatment for breast cancer and that scuttled a planned family vacation. I have to ask, though, given that Mickelson was off from October till three weeks ago, he couldn't find a week to hit the beach with the fam in that entire time?