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No Woods and player uncertainty for PGA Tour opener

KAPALUA, Hawaii, Jan 3 (Reuters) - The Mercedes-Benz Championship will launch the PGA Tour's much-trumpeted new era in the absence of Tiger Woods and with most players scratching their heads over what lies ahead this season.

In a radical shake-up, Tour officials have established the FedExCup, a season-long points competition which will culminate in a four-event playoff series with $10 million to be won by the overall champion.

"It's going to be interesting to see how it pans out," U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy told reporters after Wednesday's pro-am tournament at the Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course.

"I don't think anyone really knows how it's going to shake out but I think it's going to be fun.

"It's going to build momentum during the year and I think people will get really excited about it by the end of the year.

"That $10 million carrot at the end is a pretty big deal. That's a lot of money for anybody."

As with most of his peers, however, Australian Ogilvy will always regard the four majors as golf's holy grail

The FedExCup is going to be a nice feather in your cap, but I don't think there's a golfer in the world who wouldn't rather win a major," he said.

Fellow Australian Adam Scott, bidding for his sixth PGA Tour title after winning the season-ending Tour Championship two months ago, agreed.

MAJOR CONCERN

"I'm going to worry about the four majors, and then I'll worry about those playoffs," he said. "I figure if I play (the final) eight weeks, everything is going to be sweet.

"$10 million certainly gets your attention. But my goal is always to win golf tournaments and, if I win enough, I'll win the FedExCup, so that takes care of itself."

Thirty-six tournaments will make up the regular PGA Tour season before the big-money playoffs are held, ending with the Sept. 13-16 Tour Championship in Atlanta, Georgia for the top 30 players.

The leading 144 players in the points list will qualify for the first playoff event, the Barclays Classic outside New York from Aug. 23 to 26.

The field will be cut to 120 for the following week at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, Massachusetts before 70 players qualify for the Sept. 6-9 BMW Championship near Chicago.

Computer projections indicate that players would probably need to be ranked in the top 20 going into the Tour Championship to have a viable chance to win the FedExCup.

Although points rather than money will determine success on the 2007 PGA Tour, world number two Jim Furyk plans to treat this season like any other.

"Ultimately, whether you're looking at the money list or the points list, what it really boils down to is you need to play well," he said.

"You need to focus on what's going to get you there and the process, rather than the end result."

CLOSING STRETCH

Like Scott, Furyk is banking on playing as much of the closing stretch as he can.

"I intend to play seven out of eight for sure, and hopefully eight out of nine," he said.

"I can't skip the British (Open), Akron (for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational) or the PGA (Championship), and I'm defending at the Canadian."

For Australia's Stuart Appleby, who is chasing a fourth successive victory at Kapalua this week, the key to the season will be a fast start.

"It's just a horse race, get out of the gates, get our position and get going," he said.

Victory for Appleby would not only give him the perfect start to his campaign but also make him the first player since Tiger Woods (at the 2003 Bay Hill Invitational) to win a PGA Tour event four years in a row.

World number one Tiger Woods, champion at Kapalua in 2000, decided last week to skip the event which brings together all the title-holders from the previous season.

Read more at http://today.reuters.co.uk



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