sponsors of the WGC-HSBC Champions have expressed disappointment over the absence of the sport's leading players, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, from the event just three days after they played an exhibition event in the same country.

Seven of the top 10 are at Mission Hills, competing for a first prize of £743,000 but, according to reports it cost the promoters of Monday's "Duel at Jinsha Lake" a lot more than that to attract McIlroy and Woods.

"I'm very realistic," said Giles Morgan, the global head of sponsorship and events for HSBC. "These type of promotional TV events have a benefit for the sport; the more publicity the better. But what used to happen was that the players would make their schedules around big events and fit in what they could outside them.

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"That type of thing is fine, but these [the World Golf Championships] are the real test of golf. Outside of America and the UK, this is the biggest event of them all.

"This is the flagship event in Asia. Having a World Golf Championship in China was a big step and it helps the sport grow. To have the best players is such a strong billboard for the game; it ignites the passion. Especially with the Olympics [the sport will feature in the Games for the first time in more than a century in Rio de Janeiro in 2016], golf is going into a new dawn."

"I am absolutely convinced we will see the top players back [in Shenzhen]," Morgan added. If not, then he sees it as a real concern for golf, which has survived the financial crisis better than most sports.

"I believe that golfers have a responsibility to their sponsors. Without the sponsors, there isn't professional golf. I speak on behalf of the industry. I feel very strongly, as I know a number of sponsors do – particularly in a downturn; particularly when there are financial difficulties around the world – that golf cannot be immune, either."

With McIlroy, the Order of Merit leader absent, he could be overtaken by Peter Hanson or Justin Rose. Rose, though, is planning to take a fortnight's rest after this week, whereas McIlroy is playing in Singapore and Hong Kong before the race-ending World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Six more leading Americans have also chosen to stay away: Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar, the US Open and Players Championship winners, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler.

Ten of Europe's Ryder Cup side are present – Sergio Garcia has undergone an eye operation since Chicago – but only six of the American team: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker.

Again only two Scots, the Aberdonians Paul Lawrie and Richie Ramsay, will tee up at Mission Hills. Lawrie slipped two places to 10th on the Race to Dubai following last week's 35th place in the BMW Masters in Shanghai, while Ramsay dropped four spots to 23rd with his 63rd place.