Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 6, 1999

P G A _ G O L F

Kapalua, Maui:
Where the PGA Tour Begins

Courtesy of Kapalua
The 1999 PGA Tour will start here, at the first
hole on Kapalua's Plantation course on Maui tomorrow.

Who's got Game

The Mercedes Championship invites only
winners from last season, so anyone could win.
But, it's the guy with the most creativity,
however, who has the best chance for
success on Kapalua's Plantation Course.

By Bill Kwon


KAPALUA, Maui -- They came, they saw but who will conquer?

The majority of the 30 golfers making up the exclusive field in the Mercedes Championships will get their first taste of the sprawling par-73 Plantation Course -- the event's first venue change in 30 years -- as the 1999 PGA Tour officially starts tomorrow.

Golf's top guns are here:

Defending champion Phil Mickelson, four-time winner David Duval, U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen, PGA Championship winner Vijay Singh and British and Masters champion Mark O'Meara, the 1998 player of the year.

And, yes, Tiger Woods, who's worth the price of admission and his own paragraph by himself.

The question, though, is whether Woods, Mickelson and Duval, among others, can pocket the $486,000 top prize despite not having played, let alone not having seen, the Plantation Course before this week.

The answer? Like the answer to all golf tournaments in Hawaii: It depends on the wind.

If the trades are blowing, those who have played in the Kapalua International -- the unofficial postseason event that helped to pave the way for the Mercedes event to be here -- will have a distinct advantage.

That's the opinion of Mark Rolfing, who helped to convince PGA Tour officials that Maui is no ka oi for the Mercedes Championships, which is limited to only the winners of official events in 1998.

"I think those who have played Plantation before have the advantage. Local knowledge will help," Rolfing said.

"It's really a game of angles out here. There's a lot of strategy involved. You've got to be on the correct side of the fairway for your approach to the green and you can't leave your ball on the wrong side of the green."

In short, there's got to be some creativity to your golf game.

So you've got to like the chances of Davis Love III and Fred Couples, who've had success in winning the Kapalua International, according to Rolfing.

But if there's no wind -- as has been the case so far this week -- all bets are off, he added.

That's because there will be no "local knowledge" for Couples and Love, who've won here when the winds were kicking.

"When the wind blows, you can get the ball going anywhere," said Couples, who feels playing here before is an advantage. "I have a lot of confidence on this course."

Calm conditions should favor Mickelson and Woods, both long bombers who can get away with a few erratic drives because of the wide-open fairways.

"Besides," says Rolfing, "Mickelson is also a good putter."

You get the feeling that Mickelson is Rolfing's choice to win it, which isn't surprising since the left-hander has won the Mercedes twice since 1994. Not a bad track record, even though it's now a different track.

The event -- formerly known as the Tournament of Champions -- had been at the La Costa Country Club in Carlsbad, Calif., since 1969 before coming here when the PGA Tour revamped its calendar.

"It's fine with me, moving here," said Couples, who's paired with Mickelson in the first round. "The guys will miss La Costa, but this is a good spot. The course is fantastic."

"The players here are raving about the course," added Rolfing. "It's the best shape it has ever been. Steve Elkington told me, 'If I'd known it was this nice, I would have been here long before.' "

Only five 1998 winners aren't entered.

Ernie Els and Lee Westwood recently got married, Hal Sutton's wife is expected to give birth to twins next week and Olin Browne underwent arm surgery. Nick Price sent his regrets but decided to return to South Africa, opting to start his tour schedule later this month.

So with a limited field, a $2.6 million purse and a no-cut, 72-hole stroke-play format, this is the place to be in the golf world.

Even the player finishing dead last in 30th place will earn $39,100, if there are no ties.

At least 20 of the 30 players are expected to stay over for the inaugural Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club the following week in the PGA Tour's first full-field event.

Mickelson, Duval and Couples will not be playing next week, according to Lee Patterson, a PGA media official.

Woods, who has never played in the Hawaiian Open at Waialae, has until 30 minutes after he finishes his round on Friday to commit for the Sony Open.

bullet What: Mercedes Championships.
bullet Where: Kapalua Plantation Course, par-73, 7,263 yards.
bullet When: Tomorrow through Sunday.
bullet Format: 72-hole stroke play, no cut.
bullet Purse: $2.6 million ($468,000 first-place prize. Also a Mercedes SL 500 Sports Coupe Roadster).
bullet Defending champion: Phil Mickelson.
bullet Tickets: Season tickets $60, $15 for tomorrow and Friday, $25 Saturday and Sunday. Children under 16 free with adult ticket-holder.
bullet Television: ESPN -- Tomorrow, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; Friday, 2:30 to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 3 to 5 p.m.


Mercedes Championship

At Kapalua Plantation Course, Maui

Tomorrow's starting times

bullet First tee

10:42 a.m.--Steve Elkington, Jim Furyk.
10:51--Billy Andrade, Chris Perry.
11--Brandel Chamblee, Jeff Sluman.
11:09--Steve Pate, Vijay Singh.
11:18--Steve Jones, Fred Funk.
11:27--Lee Janzen, Joe Durant.
11:36--Stuart Appleby, J.P. Hayes.
11:45--John Cook, Tom Watson.
11:54--Trevor Dodds, Tiger Woods.
12:03 p.m.--Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III.
12:12--Mark Calcavecchia, Justin Leonard.
12:21--Billy Mayfair, Michael Bradley.
12:30--John Huston, David Duval.
12:39--Jesper Parnevik, Scott Simpson.
12:48--Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples.

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