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2003 Tour May Offer Surprises

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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The signs leading to the Plantation Course at Kapalua remind everyone that the PGA Tour Starts Here.''
 
The trick is trying to figure out where it will lead.
 
Last year was an unusual trip that took Tiger Woods to two majors and even more dominance in golf. Along the way, a record 18 players won tour events for the first time, while David Duval, David Toms and Davis Love III didn't win at all.
 
The British Open had its first sudden-death playoff. The PGA Championship was won by a former car stereo salesman (Rich Beem). And the slogan for the Masters ' a tradition like no other'' ' took on a new meaning because of the debate over its all-male membership.
 
What does 2003 hold?
 
It's going to continue to get crazy,'' Rocco Mediate said. It's not going to slow down. There's going to be a lot of things happening, like 18 first-time winners. There might be 20 of them this year. But we need Tiger to get healthy.''
 
The crystal ball is as clouded as ever, particularly with Woods starting the year on the sidelines because of knee surgery that will keep him out for at least the first five weeks.
 
Still, a look at the top story lines for the new season starts at the top:
 
When Woods returns from the longest layoff of his career, he will resume his bid to break Byron Nelson>'s record for the longest cut-making streak in PGA Tour history.
 
He ended the '02 season having made 96 in a row, dating to the 1998 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Nelson made 113 straight cuts over eight seasons in the 1940s, and Woods could set the new mark at the end of the year, possibly the Tour Championship.
 
That depends on how well he plays when he returns.
 
Even if he does break the record, there might be an asterisk. Woods already has played in 22 tournaments that didn't have a cut.
 
In Nelson's era, making the cut meant making money. And except for the majors and a few other events, no more than the top 20 finishers got paid.
 
One record no could debate would be Woods' fifth straight PGA Tour money title. No one has ever won more than four in a row.
 
Woods also has another streak on the line. He has gone four straight years winning at least one major. The record is six in a row by Walter Hagen, from 1924-29.
 
The Masters: The buzzwords for Augusta National used to be green jacket,'' azaleas'' and Amen Corner.'' Now they are point of a bayonet,'' Martha Burk'' and demonstrations.''
 
The focus has shifted from Woods going for a record third straight title to whether Augusta National will admit a female member.
 
Club chairman Hootie Johnson already has said there won't be one by the Masters, or anytime soon. Burk and Jesse Jackson plan to stage protests of the club's membership policy.
 
This has been going on for six months,'' Jeff Sluman said. Everyone has been asked questions. Everyone has been quoted. I don't see anything new coming out of that. I think there will be demonstrations. But once we get inside Augusta, it will be Augusta as usual.''
 
The Presidents Cup: The biggest question for the U.S. team is who will want to travel halfway around the world to South Africa in late November.
 
Woods is said to be leaning toward playing, but Phil Mickelson might take a pass. Lefty doesn't like playing that late in the season, and his sloppy performance during rare appearances in the silly season the last two months made him doubtful.
 
If I'm playing like this, then there's no point in me going. I wouldn't be doing my team any favors,'' Mickelson said in December. But if I don't go, I'll get ripped. You can bet that decision won't be made until the last week.''
 
Youth is served: Five players 25 or younger won on the PGA Tour last year, but the spotlight is on Charles Howell III.
 
The former NCAA champion won for the first time at the Michelob Championship, and he finished the season as the runner-up to Vijay Singh in the Tour Championship.
 
Howell's goal is to be No. 1, a tall order considering the man at the top. He at least has time on his side ' at 23, he's four years younger than Woods ' but has to start producing multiple-win seasons, and contending in the majors.
 
Whither Duval?: Starting with his rookie year in 1995, Duval never finished lower than 11th on the money list, and he is the only player besides Woods to be No. 1 in the world in the last five years.
 
But last year was a disaster.
 
His best finish was a tie for fourth. His best week of golf was in a losing effort (the Ryder Cup). He wound up 80th on the money list.
 
Duval was home in Florida on Monday, wishing he were at Kapalua. Four long years ago, he won the Mercedes Championships by nine strokes.
 
The difficult thing is to not let one bad year damage seven good years,'' he said. I plan on beating up on those guys again.''

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