Tiger to skip PGA Tour's season opener

KAPALUA, Maui. -- The PGA Tour's "new era in golf" will
begin with an old question.

Where's Tiger?

Tiger Woods decided Friday not to play next week in the
season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, the second straight
elite tournament he has skipped. The Mercedes is only for PGA Tour
winners from the previous year; Woods also sat out the
season-ending Tour Championship in November for the top 30 players
on the money list.

And it takes some of the sizzle out of the tour's launch of its
new FedExCup competition, which it has dubbed a "new era in golf"
in print and TV advertising campaigns over the last month.

Woods, who went skiing in Colorado with his family after winning
the Target World Challenge on Dec. 17, said he did not have time to
get his game ready and wanted to spend more time on vacation.

He ended last year winning six consecutive PGA Tour events, a
streak that will remain on hold until Jan. 25 at the Buick
Invitational in San Diego, where Woods is the two-time defending
champion. He said on his Web site that the extra three weeks off
"will give me much-needed extra time with my family."

"I considered playing in next week's Mercedes-Benz
Championship, the official launch of the new FedExCup, but I just
haven't been able to prepare," Woods said. "I usually spend at
least one week working on my game before a tournament, and have
been unable to do that this year."

It was the second straight year Woods will not play the
winners-only tournament. He missed last year to spend time with his
father, whose health was rapidly deteriorating from cancer. Earl
Woods died May 3. The only other time Woods did not go to Kapalua
was in 2003, when he was recovering from knee surgery.

"Hopefully, everyone will understand," Woods said.
"Obviously, this was a tough decision because Gary Planos and his
staff at Kapalua Resort always do such a great job with the

Planos, the vice president of operations at Kapalua and
tournament host, looked for bright spots on a day of gathering
clouds off the west coast of Maui.

"Obviously, we're disappointed, but we've got a championship to
run next week," he said. "Players and weather are risks in this
business that I wish I had better control of."

Woods' absence this year, however, is a setback to PGA Tour
officials trying to build momentum for its new FedExCup

The tour revamped its schedule to feature a points race that
starts at Mercedes-Benz Championship and concludes with four
"playoff" tournaments at the end of the season, with the winner
getting $10 million in deferred compensation.

The season starts Thursday without two of the most popular
players in golf -- Woods and Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who
has not played at Kapalua since 2001. Ernie Els and Retief Goosen
did not win on the PGA Tour last year, meaning the field at Kapalua
will have only one major champion from '06 (Geoff Ogilvy) and only
eight of the top 20 players in the world.

"We understand that when Tiger chooses not to play, fans and
sponsors are disappointed," PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs said.
"It's important to remain focused that the Mercedes-Benz
Championship still has a great field and there are lots of great
story lines, including Stuart Appleby going for his fourth win in a

As for the FedExCup, Kapalua is the first of 35 tournaments to
earn points and be among 144 players who qualify for the final four
tournaments. Combs said someone will earn 4,500 points next week
"and that person will be the first FedExCup points leader."

Woods will not have played on the PGA Tour for nearly four
months when he returns at the Buick Invitational. His last tour
event was the American Express Championship outside London, where
he won by eight shots for his eighth victory of the year.

Woods has said his winning streak only applies to PGA Tour
events. He lost in the first round of the HSBC World Match Play
Championship in England two weeks before the American Express, and
he was runner-up in two Asian tournaments in November.

He has never played more than 21 official PGA Tour events a
year, and hit a career-low 15 this year, mainly because of his
father's death. Woods has picked up more off-course interests in
recent years, such as scuba diving, tennis and skiing, and he got
married in 2004.

In an interview last month, he said he wasn't sure how the
FedExCup would affect his schedule, but indicated he might play
seven of the last nine weeks, including the Presidents Cup.

His decision not to play at Kapalua also is a blow to The Golf
Channel, which will be televising the first two rounds of every PGA
Tour event this year (except the majors), and will provide four-day
coverage of the first three tournaments, starting with the
Mercedes-Benz Championship.

TV ratings typically double whenever Woods is in contention, but
the cable outlet probably won't get another chance this year to
televise Woods on the weekend. Most of its four-day coverage is for
tournaments after the FedExCup ends.

The Golf Channel, which only reaches about 90 million homes, ran
a full-age Friday in USA Today with a photo of Woods rising tall
over Appleby, the three-time defending champion at Kapalua, and
Vijay Singh.

"As we've said all along, it's going to take a good part of the
year to see how the FedExCup and playing schedules relate to one
another," Combs said. "That's a little bit of a work in progress.
But the key point is this is a season-long emphasis on competition.
The tour is not one particular week, it's one year.

"I think we're going to have a great launch, regardless."