The Smilin Assassin has had little to grin about, thanks to a nagging neck injury. He was forced to withdraw from the Ford Championship at Doral after two rounds, despite making the cut. He gave it a try the following week at the Honda Classic, but again pulled out after opening in 74.
His Southern Swing only got worse at Bay Hill. He opened in 81 and then shot 74 to miss the cut. After tying for 45th at The Players Championship, he again exited early at the Masters after back-to-back 75s.
Hopefully, for his sake, Irving, Texas will provide a little pain relief.
Maruyama is the defending champion in this week's EDS Byron Nelson Classic, where he held on for a two-stroke victory over Ben Crane a year ago. It was his second career PGA Tour victory. His first came in the 2001 Greater Milwaukee Open; which, incidentally, came three starts after he was forced to pull out of the Buick Open due to a neck injury.
This is the 50th edition of the event, first called the Dallas Open. Byron Nelson won the inaugural tournament in 1944. It was named in his honor in 1968.
A field of 156 will gather at the par-70 TPC at Las Colinas and par-70 Cottonwood Valley courses. Players will rotate between the two venues over the first two rounds before playing the host Las Colinas course over the final 36 holes.
Tiger Woods, the 1997 champion, is not on hand. He personally apologized to Mr. Nelson earlier in the year, saying he had decided to try and defend his title in the European Tours Deutsche Bank-SAP Open in Germany ' and take the purported $1.6 million appearance fee ' instead.
Nonetheless, Maruyama has an impressive field to best if he wants to hold onto his title, as well as a bit of history to overcome.
Phil Mickelson is the top-ranked player in the field. The No. 4 player in the world is joined by Nick Price, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and last week's winner, David Toms.
Fred Couples, the 1987 champion, is not in the field, but he is the last defending champion to finish inside the top 10 the year following his victory. During that span, five defending champions have missed the cut, including last year when 2001 winner Robert Damron failed to qualify for the weekend.
Damrons maiden tour win was hardly a springboard to success. In his 56 tour starts since, he has 24 missed cuts, three withdrawals, one disqualification and a single top-10.
Though Damron couldnt do the Texas two-step, there have been three repeat winners in this event. Sam Snead won in 1957 and 58; Jack Nicklaus won in 70 and 71, and Tom Watson reigned in 79, 80 and 81.
This event was Watsons personal playground in the late 70s and early 80s. During an eight-year span, he won three consecutive times, and never finished outside of the top 4.
In those eight years, he banked a total of $275,571. This year, fourth place alone will get $268,800. The winner will get $1,008,000 of the $5.6 million purse.