The Mercedes Championships will have its smallest field ever, in part because top-ranked Tiger Woods opted not to play in Hawaii this year.
Money can't fix Mercedes
New greens on the Plantation Course aren't enough to convince Tiger to play at Kapalua
KAPALUA, Maui » The $5.4 million Mercedes Championships isn't quite the same without certain members of the PGA Tour's Fab Four serenading golf fans along the Plantation Course fairways.
They like to say the tour season begins here, but without Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, one wonders if the true concert isn't several weeks away somewhere in Southern California.
At Kapalua, Maui
When: Tomorrow through Sunday
Course: Kapalua Resort, The Plantation Course
Purse: $5.4 million
TV: ESPN. Tomorrow through Saturday: 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday: 2 to 5 p.m.
Tomorrow's tee times
11:10 a.m.: Carl Pettersson, Heath Slocum
11:20 a.m.: Wes Short Jr., Lucas Glover
11:30 a.m.: Robert Gamez, K.J. Choi
11:40 a.m.: Mark Calcavecchia, Jason Gore
11:50 a.m.: Brad Faxon, Olin Browne
Noon: Ben Crane, Vaughn Taylor
12:10 p.m.: Sean O'Hair, Jason Bohn
12:20 p.m.: Michael Campbell, Jim Furyk
12:30 p.m.: Bart Bryant, Sergio Garcia
12:40 p.m.: Tim Petrovic, Ted Purdy
12:50 p.m.: Fred Funk, Peter Lonard
1 p.m.: Geoff Ogilvy, Kenny Perry
1:10 p.m.: Justin Leonard, David Toms
1:20 p.m.: Stuart Appleby, Vijay Singh
Add Padraig Harrington and Retief Goosen to the MIA mix, and suddenly the only top 10 tour members teeing it up here tomorrow are second-ranked Vijay Singh, No. 6 Sergio Garcia and No. 7 Jim Furyk.
It's not exactly what tour commissioner Tim Finchem had hoped for as he continues negotiations with Mercedes to be the sponsor of this winners-only event that has opened the tour season since 1999.
This is the final year of the current contract and the fact Sony already has signed on the dotted line to remain on Oahu for four more years should give golf fans here pause.
After Woods complained loud and long about the grain of the greens last year, the Plantation Course closed from January through Aug. 1 to plant Ultradwarf TifEagle grass only to have Woods back out two weeks ago, citing fatigue. Mickelson hasn't been here for five years, saying he prefers to spend this time of year with his family.
But rumor has it he isn't a big fan of the course, either, leaving Mercedes to wonder if $20-something million spread over four years is worth the price of admission. Last year, several prominent tour members, including Woods, questioned whether a 10-month season was too long, leaving one to wonder
what's in the works and how this tournament fits into the equation.
Those 27 who are here this week for the start of the 2006 campaign, including U.S. Open winner Michael Campbell and defending Mercedes champion Stuart Appleby, are looking forward to vying for the $1.08 million first prize and new car that goes with it.
"I guess, you know, having Phil and Tiger not here, Retief, is a good thing for me," Appleby said, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Maybe they're a little scared, I don't know."
Tour veteran Mark Calcavecchia, who hadn't qualified for this exclusive event since 2002, believes all of the 31 winners should be here if possible.
It's as close to an all-star event as the tour can fashion and offers players like him a chance to spend time with the game's elite.
"Well, I text-messaged Tiger and said, 'No Hawaii for you, more cash for me.' 'Thanks for not playing in Hawaii, more cash for me.' Something like that," Calcavecchia said. "But I think they (Tiger and Phil) should be here. It's bad for the tournament. Good for me, bad for the tournament.
"Obviously, money is not an issue. They don't need the money, which is nice to be in that position. You know, it's the first week of the year. It's just golf, you know. It's not a marathon. It's not like the Ironman out here, swim 26 miles or something. It's just golf. I think they should be here. That's all I got to say."
Even without Mickelson and Woods, golf fans are still being treated to many of the game's best.
Garcia and David Toms are here to perhaps treat us to another great matchup as they did in 2002, when Garcia bested Toms in a playoff. Furyk won here in 2001, and Singh gave Appleby everything he wanted last year before the Australian pulled through.
Singh has yet to officially declare he will return to Oahu next week to defend his 2005 Sony Open crown, but it's possible he will do so before the Friday deadline. In this week's field, he has made the most Mercedes appearances with nine and would have to be considered among the favorites to walk off with a win on Sunday.
K.J. Choi, who finished second to Els in 2003, Kenny Perry and Justin Leonard have also done well here in the past. But for now, Appleby is the reigning champ.
"I'm looking forward to coming back and I guess not defending, but trying to reclaim another title here," Appleby said. "I know what I have to do. I know how to play -- I know what sort of golf's required to win here. I think it's pretty fair to say I was out of it last year (after opening with a 74).
"Not like my first year winning here, but the last three rounds I played the best I've played here."