New Year with Unlimited Possibilities

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04 Mercedes ChampionshipsKAPALUA, Hawaii -- The serenity of the moment didn't last long for Vijay Singh.
 
Staring down the lush green fairway into the Pacific Ocean, on a day so clear it looked like he could hit the island of Molokai on the horizon, Singh's drive instead ballooned into a big slice. He quickly turned and scolded a photographer whose camera went off too early.
 
Then his trainer and caddie, Joey Diovisalvi, walked over to another photographer and told him, 'No pictures.'
 
Maui is a wonderful place to relax, but there's no time for that now.
 
Singh is on top of the world, but it's getting crowded at the top. And while the season-opening Mercedes Championships at Kapalua offers the most spectacular views on the PGA Tour, a snapshot of the elite in golf also is breathtaking.

A new season has rarely looked this ripe with possibilities.
 
Singh is the undisputed No. 1 player, coming off a season in which he won nine times, added his third major championship and shattered the PGA Tour record with nearly $11 million.
 
Tiger Woods and Ernie Els are capable of replacing him quickly if the 41-year-old Fijian can't keep up his amazing pace. Masters champion Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen are poised to make a move, and some believe Sergio Garcia is ready to join the elite.
 
'This year is going to be exciting,' Goosen said. 'There will probably be a No. 1 player a few times this year.'
 
Joey Sindelar first joined the PGA Tour in 1984, when Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino were not done winning majors and Tom Watson was the man to beat. Curtis Strange was on the verge of becoming a dominant player, and Greg Norman was about to make his first big splash in the majors.
 
Still, he can't remember a time when so many top players were hitting their stride at the same time.
 
'It would be like having the best of the '70s, the best of the '80s and the best of the '90s all happening at one time,' Sindelar said. 'We didn't have that many dominators during those years. There were one or two. Now you've just named five or six. And there's probably more.
 
'When you look at them all together, it's like looking at a bunch of 7-footers.'
 
It all begins to unfold Thursday when the Mercedes Championships get under way on the Plantation Course at Kapalua with an elite 31-man field comprised of only PGA Tour winners from last year. The only one missing is Mickelson, who elected not to play.
 
Singh still stands the tallest in the field, an imposing figure with a swing he has grooved from countless hours on the practice range. He won six out of the last eight tournaments he played on tour, and he finished out of the top 10 only once over the final three months.
 
'Vijay is the man at the moment,' Els said.
 
Along with becoming only the sixth man in PGA Tour history to win at least nine times, Singh ended Woods' five-year reign at No. 1 in the world ranking.
 
Woods showed up at Kapalua on Monday, the earliest he has ever arrived for the Mercedes because heavy rains near his home in California kept him from practicing.
 
Sitting in a cart after playing nine holes earlier in the week, someone asked him about the rivalry with Singh. Woods laughed and shook his head, not wanting to take part in a debate he has heard for years.
 
'You guys are funny,' he said before driving off.
 
Even when he was ruling the PGA Tour, Woods dismissed talk of a rivalry by mentioning there were too many players who could serve as his foil. Now when he says that, people believe him.
 
'There's no doubt at the moment there's a lot of guys playing well,' Garcia said. 'Of course, two or three years ago, Tiger was the one that was standing out. But I think right now at the moment, there's a bigger group. There's no doubt that it's exciting to see what's going to happen.'
 
Woods ended his most troublesome year -- one PGA Tour victory, not in contention in any of the majors -- by winning the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan and his Target World Challenge in December against a 16-man field in the silly season. But he found the swing key he had been working on with coach Hank Haney, and expectations are high.
 
Asked if it was similar to 1999, when he finally figured out his swing changes, Woods said, 'No. It's better.'
 
'I just feel that the swing is better,' he said. 'It's hard to explain. I worked my tail off this past year, and the results I had toward the end of the season made it so exciting.'
 
They remain high for Els, too.
 
Having taken time off to run his toes through the sand along the coast of South Africa, the Big Easy figured 2004 wasn't all that bad. He won five times around the world -- three times on the PGA Tour -- but most remember the close calls he had in all four majors, especially his playoff loss to Todd Hamilton at Royal Troon.
 
'If you told me before last year, 'Hey, I'll give you three top 5s in the majors, I'll give you five wins worldwide,' that's a very good year,' Els said. 'But who knows? Let's see how it goes. Just winning any tournament to start off will be great, and then see how the momentum builds.
 
'Let's just be cautious at the start and see where we are and take it from there.'
 
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