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PGA Tour starts today, but Tiger Woods will sit out first event

The first year of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup went as well or better than expected. Sure, there were some mumbles and grumbles … but no tumble from Tiger Woods. Golf’s top superstar won seven events and finished with a victory in the inaugural FedEx Cup.

The seasonlong points race, hyped almost beyond reason by the Tour and FedEx, drew its share of criticism from the players and didn’t exactly set the sports world on fire with fan interest.

Yet it worked well enough, in no small part to Woods winning The Tour Championship last September, which was the perfect finale for television. Now it all starts again. However, as the 2008 season tees off today with the Mercedes-Benz Championship in Kapalua, Hawaii, there is something missing.

Namely the presence of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who are skipping the event because … well, frankly because they can. It’s the first week of January, and neither Woods nor Mickelson feels the need to get started quite this early.

Last year, Woods won the first he event he played in, the Buick Invitational on Jan. 28. But since he won’t be one of the 31 players competing for the Mercedes-Benz Championship, like all tournaments Woods doesn’t play, there is a different feel for the field.

Players like Woody Austin of Derby, Kan., hope this event is where they can start getting their games back in shape after time off.

“We’ve had a lot of snow this offseason,” Austin said in a news conference. “I have done nothing. In the 2 1/2 months off, I played the Shark Shootout. That’s it. So no preparation.

“Unfortunately I’m about as rusty as I possibly can be. The whole thing about coming out here (is) bring the family out. It’s a great week to enjoy, a lot of things for the kids to do.”

By contrast, the defending champion of this event, Vijay Singh, is prepared for the event and thinks that gives him a definite advantage.

“I worked out hard,” Singh said. “My offseason was pretty much working harder than other guys, so it’s like a break when I come out on the road.”

Singh, 44, is looking toward the goal of getting a “career grand slam” in the majors, for which he needs the U.S. Open and the British Open. Woods, however, is looking for the real thing – a calendar Grand Slam, and there’s reason to think that this year he might do it.

Obviously, Woods has plenty of past success at the Masters. The U.S. Open this year is at Torrey Pines in San Diego, where hometown product Mickelson will be the massive fan favorite. And although Woods doesn’t need the motivation, beating Mickelson on his “turf” would be especially sweet.

Plus, last season’s runner-up finish at the U.S. Open to Angel Cabrera is likely still sticking in Woods’ craw a bit.

The British Open is at Royal Birkdale in England. And the PGA Championship is at Oakland Hills in suburban Detroit; Woods is defending champion in that event.

It was the major he won last season, as the Masters went to Zach Johnson, the U.S. Open to Cabrera and the British to Padraig Harrington. Johnson and Cabrera are both playing in the Mercedes-Benz Championship, but Harrington isn’t.

Johnson was asked whether he could build on this season after a major breakthrough last year.

“Well, a player like myself, I’m always looking for some more length, for sure,” he said. “But in order to do that, I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m working out as hard as I’ve ever worked out. I’m trying to get flexible, more flexibility. I’m trying to obviously put some more mass on. I’m trying to do all that stuff, so I’m going the right direction there.”

As for whether anyone can consistently compete with Woods, Johnson gave a diplomatic but honest answer.

“There are a lot of talented players,” he said. “A couple of guys out here kind of wow me. Maybe not like Tiger, but are close, and they’ve already had lots of success. I think age has a little bit to do with it. You look at Sergio (Garcia), Adam Scott, those guys right there are phenoms in my opinion, much like a Tiger. But Tiger is on another level.

“As far as power on the golf ball, there’s a lot of guys that can hit it like Tiger. Mentally on the golf course … I would say that he’s second to none. And if there is a second, I don’t know who it would be because he’s that much more dominant in that area.”

However, at least for this first event, the others don’t have to worry about Tiger Woods.


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