Crouching world championship, hidden Tiger

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“We have an opportunity to be a genuine top 10 event in the world,” he said. “That requires a massive investment, which we’re pleased to do. And that means we want to be an authentic sponsor in the world of golf.”

Morgan looked out across the range at Sheshan International at one of his strongest fields ever _ 40 of the top 50 in the world, a group that includes McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and PGA champion Jason Dufner. There are nearly two dozen Americans in the field. He believes it will get even stronger as more players realize the economic potential of playing in China.

Woods was instrumental in getting the HSBC Champions launched. He was runner-up in 2005 and 2006, attracting huge crowds. He returned in 2009 when it was a WGC (though not official on the PGA Tour) and was upstaged by Mickelson in the final round. And the London-based financial company has been involved with Woods as a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.

“He’s genuinely a friend of the company,” Morgan said.

Woods hasn’t been back since 2010.

These outings could signal a change in his economic model, for Woods no longer has the blue-chip corporate support he enjoyed for so many years. Since his personal life crumbled after he was exposed for serial adultery at the end of 2009, he no longer has endorsement deals with Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade, Gillette and Tag Heuer.

EA Sports is the most recent corporate relationship to end, after 15 years.

Woods signed a deal with Rolex in October 2011, and five weeks later announced a deal with Florida-based Fuse Science to display its logo on his bag. For the last two years, however, he hasn’t added another sponsor. What remains unknown is whether companies aren’t interested or the price tag is too high.

Meanwhile, HSBC staged a photo call Tuesday afternoon in the riverfront Bund district to celebrate the start of the tournament. It wasn’t long ago that Woods and Mickelson shared the stage by playing Chinese checkers. This time, defending champion Ian Poulter was joined by Mickelson, McIlroy, Dufner and Rose. They dressed in ceremonial cloaks with traditional weapons and performed with the Shanghai Jingju Company on a rooftop overlooking the Bund.

The theme was “returning heroes.”

Just not all of them.

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