By Andrew Both
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The absence of Tiger Woods will not go unnoticed at this week's WGC-HSBC Champions tournament but the attendance of 40 of the world's top 50 players suggests the tournament is living up to its billing as a World Golf Championships tournament.
The HSBC is the only WGC event played outside the United States but an $8.5 million purse has still not been enough to lure world number one Woods to Sheshan International Golf Club.
With appearance money banned in official PGA Tour events, the 14-time major champion has snubbed the event since 2010.
This week, instead, he s participating in a some lucrative corporate outings elsewhere in Asia following on from Monday's exhibition match against Rory McIlroy on Hainan Island in South China.
World number two Adam Scott, who this year became the first Australian to win the Masters, is also missing as he prepares for a busy year-end schedule in his homeland, but the presence of British Open champion Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open winner Justin Rose and two-time major champion McIlroy helps soften the blow.
Mickelson's golf course design business is growing in China - he has a new course opening in Shanghai early next year - but his focus this week will be on clinching a Sheshan hat-trick, where he also won in 2007 and 2009.
"I was not swinging well in Malaysia (but) the last two days my game started to come around," Mickelson told reporters on Wednesday, referring to last week's CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, where he finished tied for 19th.
"I enter this tournament with a lot more confidence than I've had in a while. I feel the ball-striking is getting better, the rhythm is getting better and Sheshan is a course I feel very comfortable on."
Englishman Rose knows a good result here would boost his chances of winning the Race to Dubai - formerly known as the European Tour Order of Merit. He is third with just two events left after this week.
"To get my name on that trophy again would be a huge honor," said Rose, who won the European money list in 2007.
"This is a key week on both tours (because) it's my first event on the 2014 PGA Tour schedule."
McIlroy, meanwhile, needs a strong performance to qualify for the European Tour's season-ender in Dubai in a fortnight. He is 62th on the money list, with only the top 60 advancing.
"It's a big week obviously... it's sort of make-or-break," McIlroy said.
"If I don't play good enough here, then you know, there's a good chance I won't play in Dubai. But... there's a bigger chance of me winning this tournament than not playing in Dubai, I feel."
The international field here comprises 72 players from 21 countries, headed by 24 American players.
The host country has a six-man contingent, while nine other Asian players are in the field - four from Japan (including young stars Hideki Matsuyama and Ryo Ishikawa), two from Thailand, two from South Korea and one from India.
Englishman Ian Poulter is defending champion.
(Editing by John O'Brien)