Tiger Woods Skips Season Opener


KAPALUA, Maui. (AP) - Tiger Woods decided Friday to skip the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, meaning the PGA Tour's "new era in golf" will begin next week amid old questions about the absence of its biggest star.

Woods, who was skiing with his family last week in Colorado, said he did not have time to get his game ready and he wanted to spend more time with his family.

He has won 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.

Woods said on his Web site that he has spent the last 12 days skiing and relaxing with family and friends, "but I've basically been away from golf since winning the Target World Challenge" on Dec. 17.

"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 event."

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."

His absence this year, however, is a setback to PGA Tour officials trying to build momentum for its new FedExCup competition.

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. It has been promoting the FedExCup as the "new era in golf" in print and TV advertising the last month.

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.

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.

He also skipped the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time, saying he was emotionally spent from a year in which he lost his father to cancer and won two majors during his six-tournament streak on the tour.

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.

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.