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Tiger's absence spoils Buick Open's 50th anniversary party
DETROIT (Reuters) - The Buick Open's 50th anniversary party will be a little more subdued than planned with guest of honour Tiger Woods announcing he will miss the rest of the year to have surgery on his left knee.
While the golf world has had a week to digest the news that Woods will not play again this season, the Buick, set to start on Thursday at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club, represents the first tournament the world number one had been scheduled to play and is likely to provide a barometer of what sort of impact his absence will have on the sport.
Attendance and television ratings for the Buick are expected to dip without Woods, who has made Warwick Hills a regular fixture on his calendar with the carmaker being one of his biggest endorsements.
Coming off a heroic playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open, Woods was to be the centerpiece of the 50th anniversary celebrations that was to include a golf clinic at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, and several charity and sponsorship events that had to be scrapped.
Woods's value to a tournament will be tested at the Buick, which has been left with just one golfer ranked among the world's top 20 in the field -- former champion Jim Furyk.
With eight top-10 finishes including a victory in 2003, Furyk will rank among the favorites to claim the $5 million tournament, which received another blow when three-time winner Vijay Singh also dropped the event from his schedule.
Woods and Singh had combined to win four of the last six Buicks.
With Woods on the sideline, the man likely to take over the spotlight is the player he shared it with at the U.S. Open; Mediate, who returns to work for the first time since his bruising 91-hole battle with the world number one at Torrey Pines.
The 2000 Buick champion, Mediate won over a huge number of fans with his enthusiastic play in San Diego but will need more than charm to replace Woods's charisma.
American Brian Bateman will be back to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion with a birdie at the last to claim his first career PGA Tour win after 151 starts.
Bothered by a sore shoulder that may require surgery, Bateman said he considered withdrawing from the tournament but took inspiration from Woods and decided to try and defend his one and only title.
"I really wanted to play here and really wanted to try to defend," Bateman told reporters. "You don't have many opportunities out here to defend your title, and I thought I owed it to Buick and to the people here at Warwick to at least come back and try and defend.
"As far as the surgery, it may be in the next few weeks. I may try to play through a couple of the majors and maybe the FedExCup and take the fall off."
(Editing by Miles Evans)
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