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Players unhappy at World Cup timing

World Cup stars have slammed organizers of the event here for scheduling it so late in the year that many top players have stayed away.

In contrast to last year in Gotemba, Japan when the tournament was held in mid-November, the 2002 World Cup has been put back to December 12-15 at a time when most players are winding down for Christmas and New Year.

The result is that the biggest draw in the sport, Tiger Woods, will not show for what would have been a fourth consecutive appearance, and title-holders South Africa have to do without the two men who won for them last year -- Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.

Even though the Americans have put together a powerful partnership in world No. 2 Phil Mickelson and David Toms, there is a distinct end-of-season feel to the tournament.

Ireland's Paul McGinley, playing in the World Cup for the sixth consecutive year with partner Padraig Harrington, is in no doubt where the problem lies.

"I think it's a horrendous date. It's two weeks before Christmas," he said.

"It's a world event and they should be giving precedence in my opinion. You look at how strong the field was in Japan last year, because it was a great date.

"This year, the American tour starts up the first week in January, going out to Hawaii. I can understand guys not coming.

McGinley added: "The World Cup should get precedence, it's a world event. That's the whole idea."

Harrington, who admitted to being on his last legs after a long, grinding season that has seen him move into the elite of world golf, agreed.

"The problem obviously is that golf is an individual game and if we are going to make an event like the World Cup count it needs a date that is going to attract the players," he said.

Finding an earlier date, however, may be easier said than done in a sport which has grown hugely over the last few years.

For instance, no sooner had the European Tour staged its 2002 season-ending Volvo Masters in Spain in early November than the 2003 edition got underway thousands of kilometers away at the Asian Open in Taiwan, jointly sponsored with the Asian Tour.

It's then off to Australia, Malaysia, South Africa and the Gulf early in the New Year before heading back to Europe in April.

The U.S. PGA Tour is more forgiving with a two-month offseason from early November until the first week of January, but that period is increasingly being taken over by lucrative skins games and special events.

There is big money to be pocketed at such events as the $4 million Sun City shootout in South Africa, won by Els this year, and last week's Target Golf challenge in California where Harrington held off Woods for a top prize of $1 million in a charity event hosted by the American.

That leaves little elbow room for the World Cup, an event that will celebrate its 50th year next year, but which entails a form of golf alien to many of today's young stars.

Mickelson said he fully understood Woods' decision not to travel to Mexico to join him as the top two ranking U.S. players, and coincidentally the top two in the world.

"Tiger has played a lot in the last month, starting with last week with the tournament that he hosts," he said.

"He played the Skins Game. A couple of days before that he played the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The week before that, he was in Japan and I think that you can only play so much golf."

Taking heed of the criticism over late scheduling, next year's World Cup will switch back to mid-November and will return to Kiawah Island in South Carolina.

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