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PGA Tour kicks off with Mercedes Championship

india Updated: Jan 04, 2007 15:00 IST
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The PGA Tour marketing department says a "new era in golf" begins on Thursday when the Mercedes Championship kicks off the 2007 season. Whether anyone will notice remains to be seen.

In an effort to boost stagnant American interest in the game, the tour this year will unveil what it calls the FedEx Cup, a series of four consecutive events that will culminate with the Tour Championship in September.

Players will qualify for the series by gathering points over the first eight months of the season, not to be confused with the money list, which traditionally has been used to rank players.

However, the points list will roughly correlate with the money list.

Don't worry if you don't know the exact formula used to compile points, because most of the players don't know either.

More than a few players are lukewarm about the FedEx series, although the prospect of the winner collecting a 10 million dollars annuity is enough to get some attention.

By bringing the Tour Championship forward by seven weeks and compacting the important part of the season, the tour hopes to encourage its star players to undertake a heavier schedule in the heart of the season, but the early signs are hardly encouraging.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the tour's biggest stars, are not in Kapalua for the season opener, even a 5.5 million dollar purse, a small winners-only field and the red carpet treatment from the Kapalua Resort not enough to entice them to Maui.

"I want to win major championships ahead of anything else," said world No. 2 Jim Furyk, who at the same time thinks the FedEx Cup is a good idea.

"Honestly, I think it's a positive step for the PGA Tour. It's an opportunity for us to market ourselves right and, hopefully, provide more excitement at the end of the year."

Furyk has not finalized his schedule, but he knows he can't play all the tournaments he likes.

"Last year I played 24 events plus the Ryder Cup in 10 months," Furyk said. "I can't play the same number of events in eight-and-a-half. It's going to be hard picking and choosing which events to play."

In the absence of Woods and Mickelson, most attention this week will focus on Stuart Appleby, who has a chance to become just the fourth player in PGA Tour history to win the same event four consecutive times, joining Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen.

"Having won three times, I'd like to think I have some intimidation factor on (Woods) and he's just not interested in coming over here," said Appleby, tongue planted firmly in cheek. "He was going for his seventh (consecutive official win on tour), so maybe he didn't want me to break his run."

On a more serious note, Appleby acknowledged that the absence of Woods and Mickelson hurts the event, even if it means two less players, and very good ones at that, to beat.

Appleby's victories at the Kapalua Plantation course the past three years have, at first glance, been somewhat surprising, because he has won only one other tour event during that period.

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