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Tiger's tourney suffers with no Woods

All the advertising around Tiger's event, the world's No. 1 player won't be in attendance this week. Harry How/Getty Images

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- His name and likeness are everywhere, from banners to programs to ticket stubs. All that is missing is Tiger Woods himself, cruel irony at its finest.

For years, Woods has made a habit of committing to tournaments at the last minute, trying to avoid the criticism and bad feelings that surely would result from his absence, knowing that fans might have bought passes specifically to see him.

He never planned on causing such disappointment so close to home.

The Chevron World Challenge is commonly referred to as "Tiger's Tournament," one established a decade ago, when he had barely taken the first steps along his path to golfing greatness. Organizers have been marketing his appearance for weeks, including a special advertising section in the Sunday Los Angeles Times.

Proceeds from the event go to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has a learning center in nearby Anaheim that has helped thousands of students. That concept has been a longtime dream of Woods and his late father, Earl, conceived nearly the moment Tiger turned pro in 1996.

But the charity is likely to take a hit this week, as Woods is at home in Florida, nursing the injuries -- both literal and figurative -- suffered in the one-car crash Friday that has made worldwide headlines.

"I think it's going to take away from the tournament the first couple of days," said Ireland's Padraig Harrington, one of 18 players who will compete for a purse of $5.75 million without Woods. "Obviously, we're talking now about Tiger not being here."

Who isn't talking about Tiger, golf fans or otherwise?

The fact that he is skipping his own tournament speaks volumes and has led to all kinds of conjecture. Are the injuries suffered in the accident serious enough to keep him from playing golf? Or does he simply want to avoid the circus that was sure to greet him at Sherwood Country Club in the suburbs of Los Angeles?

Most of Woods' peers are as much in the dark as the rest of the world concerning what really occurred inside the gates of his Isleworth community, but they admit it is impossible to be unaware of the spectacle the incident created -- along with the subsequent tabloid reports and Woods' lengthy statement released Wednesday.

"The other day was a four-helicopter day at Isleworth," said John Cook, one of Woods' friends and neighbors, who is at Sherwood to participate in the pretournament pro-ams. "That's a pretty major deal for us. It's a sleepy little place. It's very private and very quiet. When there's four helicopters hovering around, you know something pretty major is going on."

Cook was hitting balls on the Isleworth driving range Saturday with all the commotion around him but says he has not spoken to Woods. Neither has Mark O'Meara, who simply said, "He's my friend, and I care about him."

Every player asked about Woods expressed relief that Tiger was not injured more seriously and generally admitted knowing very little about the situation.

"You know, I'm not going to kid you, it's taken a little bit of the life out of me being here,'' said Steve Stricker, "because usually I'm paired with him here in this event and very much look forward to playing with him the first round, and him not being here, I'm not going to be able to do that.

"But we've still got to go on. We've still got to play in this tournament and make it a good one and help out his organization and hopefully he works everything out at home and gets back real soon.''

Harrington, as usual, was the most talkative on the subject, admitting that it is human nature to be drawn to the story.

"It made the front pages of every newspaper," he said. "Even at home [in Ireland], and that's incredible, considering there was a rail crash at the same time in Russia where there were 89 people killed. And there was the front-page picture of Tiger Woods.

"It's a phenomenal story. The spotlight is massive. It's pretty legitimate for people to be discussing it and talking about it. ...

"It's obviously tough for him because it's his own event. ... I'm sure it was a hard decision for him to make."

Woods has won the tournament four times, and every year he has donated his prize money to his foundation, a figure that is now approaching $7 million.

Last year, Woods missed the Chevron while recovering from knee surgery, but the vibe was totally different.

Woods was in attendance and met with media members for one of the first times following his epic U.S. Open victory and subsequent surgery. Everyone knew his return to the game was imminent. He also spent time schmoozing clients and doing foundation business.

While Woods' injuries are not expected to keep him off the golf course for long, there is an uneasiness associated with his absence this time, whether it be the lingering issues to this entire tale or the more tangible effects on the tournament.

Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation, who runs the Chevron event (as well as the AT&T National, which also benefits the foundation), tried to put up a positive front -- even though you know Chevron can't be happy, nor television partners NBC or the Golf Channel, nor myriad other sponsors.

"He certainly makes a big impact when he plays in your tournament," McLaughlin said. "There's no question. And it's always better certainly to have him. But there are a lot of great events on this tour and the European Tour and other tours that don't have Tiger. And this tournament has a lot of good players. If you like golf, you have an opportunity to watch the stars."

Yeah, but not the biggest one.

And that's why McLaughlin made the surprising decision to offer a refund to anyone who bought a ticket to the tournament, as well as a 20 percent discount to those who come and buy a ticket next year. Tickets to PGA Tour events typically are sold on a no-refund basis, with all proceeds going to charity.

"We felt it was the right thing to do," he said.

As for Woods ... well, the debate will continue to rage as to whether he is doing the right thing.

"He just shows that we're all human," Cook said. "He crashed his car. If you go through life without crashing a car one time, you've done pretty well for yourself.

"It's just a matter of getting your thoughts together, do the right thing, protect your family. I don't think it will hurt him at all. It shows that he's human. On the golf course, he's not human sometimes. We all see that. But off the golf course, we all have our own things going on. I think he might be stronger for it."

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.