Recharged Woods defends PGA Tour Championship absence

TIGER WOODS has shrugged off criticism levelled at him for missing last week’s high-profile PGA Tour Championship in America.

The world number one was absent for the tour’s season finale, choosing to continue his break from the game before flying out to China for the HSBC Champions event, which starts today at the Sheshan International GC.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem expressed his disappointment that a number of big-name stars, with Woods obviously at the top of that list, were not playing in the event.

However, the 12-time major winner defended his decision to take a five-week break after a year overshadowed by the death of his father Earl in May.

“You can’t play them all – and the ones which you don’t play, people are going to wish you were there to play. That’s just the way it’s going to be,” Woods said.

“Five weeks was nice. It was nice to just get away and lock up the clubs for a little bit.”

A recharged Woods is now looking forward to getting back on the course, starting in Shanghai – where he finished runner-up to England’s David Howell last year – moving on to the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and the two-day Grand Slam in Hawaii before finishing with his own tournament, the Target World Challenge, in December.

“I want to make sure I play well in these four events,” Woods added.

Padraig Harrington says his eyes are now trained on a major after winning the European Order of Merit title, as he lamented the joy of his new crown had only lasted one week.

Harrington secured the Harry Vardon Trophy in dramatic circumstances when his second-placed finish at the season-ending Volvo Masters in Spain was just enough to edge past Englishman Paul Casey in the cash standings.

“The Order of Merit probably sits in there just behind a major win in terms of something you would want to achieve in your career,” Harrington said.

“The natural progression is a major. Is it a giant step left? I don’t know. But certainly the next step is a world event, first, and then a major. I’m happy enough to skip a world event and go straight to a major if that’s okay.”

Harrington said he was enjoying his new status as Europe’s best player, but that heading back into competition so soon meant everyone was back at a level playing field again.

In fact, the HSBC Champions tournament, co-sanctioned with the Australian, Asian and South African tours, is the first event of the 2007 season for the European tour.

“Unfortunately it only lasts a week. I won a week ago and I got a week’s enjoyment,” Harrington said of his pleasure at winning the Order of Merit.

“I suppose at the end of this week we’ll have — maybe we won’t have — a new European number one. So it’s interesting that it only lasts for such a short period.”

Harrington said he was not quite sure what to make of the European scheduling that meant he was starting season 2007 in November 2006.

“I’m really focused on five more events for the year. Mentally this is more of a 2006 tournament to me,” he said.

Harrington will tee up with New Zealand’s Michael Campbell and China’s Zhang Lianwei for the first two rounds of the HSBC Champions tournament.

The five-million-dollar event, the richest in Asia, boasts a number of Europe’s best players, including Casey, defending champion David Howell from England, Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.

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