Shanghai: Officials at the BMW Masters expressed disappointment Wednesday at the absence of crowd-puller Rory McIlroy, but said they respected his decision to pull out of the European Tour event.
The world number one is taking time away from golf to prepare for his multi-million dollar legal case against his former management company in Ireland.
The absence of the mercurial Northern Irishman, who has won two majors this year, threatens to take the gloss off the first event on the European Tour's "Final Four" series of big money events.
McIlroy's absence, announced eight days ago, was still the subject of much talk around the practice greens at Lake Malaren Wednesday as finishing touches were put to the course for Thursday's opening round.
"We are very sorry that Rory McIlroy will not tee off at the BMW Masters for the first time since the tournament has been held," BMW's tournament director Marco Kaussler told AFP.
"We obviously understand the disappointment of the many golf fans in China, but we respect his decision."
The tournament suffered a second blow on Tuesday with the confirmation that world number five Henrik Stenson would also miss the event. His wife Emma gave birth on Sunday in Florida.
The weakened field means that Welshman Jamie Donaldson, currently fourth in the Race to Dubai standings, is the leading European player in the field.
He is one of only a handful of players with a slim chance of catching runaway leader McIlroy in the standings.
"Obviously it would be great to have Rory here," Donaldson told AFP.
"I don't know the ins and outs of why he's not playing here but I'm sure he'll be back playing as strong as ever," he said, before heading out in Wednesday's pro-am.
Donaldson admitted it was going to be a tall order to catch McIlroy and he might have to win an improbable two or three of the final four tournaments to do it.
"I'm just trying to put myself into contention as many times as I can for four weeks and see if I can go better than last year and pick up wins," said Donaldson.
"It's mathematically possible to catch him, but it's one hell of a stretch."
Donaldson has enjoyed the best year of his career, capped off with a maiden Ryder Cup appearance that saw him hit a wedge to within inches of the pin in the Sunday singles to secure the winning point for Europe.
"Best week of my life in golf. Cinderella story, wasn't it?" Donaldson said.
"You know I was blessed, or whatever you want to call it, that it came down to my game and I was able to hit the best wedge shot in my life at that time. You can't make it up, can you?"