Only 11 of the 31 players from last year were eligible to return to Kapalua. And because three guys didn't show, only eight players teed it up for the second straight year.
Perhaps another way to illustrate the depth of talent is the margin of victory: Runaways are rare.
'To separate yourself from a bunch of other very, very good players -- more than likely playing some really good golf -- is going to be very difficult,' Stuart Appleby said. 'What Tiger did at Pebble Beach a few years back was unheard of.'
Woods owns the record for largest margin of victory at a major, winning by 15 shots in the 2000 U.S. Open.
Kapalua has had two runaways during its seven years hosting the Mercedes Championships. David Duval won by nine shots in 1999 during his rapid rise to No. 1 in the world (the next time he played, he shot 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Classic), and Ernie Els won by eight shots in 2003 when he set a PGA Tour record at 31 under par.
The other five events at Kapalua were decided by one shot, or in a playoff.
'That's just the level of play,' Appleby said. 'It's a unique sport. You can look at motor sports, you look at Formula One, they have competitive teams, all the cars look the same. Sometimes you have races where it's a whitewash. You don't want that. Having runaways is not good for any sport.'
Last year on the PGA Tour, 36 of 47 tournaments were decided by two shots or fewer, with 11 of those a playoff. The largest margin belonged to Kenny Perry at the Colonial, where he shot 63-64 in the middle of the tournament and won by seven. Bart Bryant won by six shots in his wire-to-wire victory at the Tour Championship.
Tiger Woods twice won by at least three shots, although that's not surprising. Nineteen of his 46 victories on the PGA Tour have been by at least three shots, with four of those in double digits.
'It's very seldom a guy gets on a roll with his putter to the point where he can separate himself from the field, like Tiger has done a few times, and Ernie did here, and Duval,' Fred Funk said.
Funk still hasn't experience that. Of his seven victories, the largest margin was two strokes.
Jim Furyk has a house near the 18th hole at Kapalua and spends about a month there each year, so he is no stranger to the Plantation course.
That doesn't mean he has a home-field advantage at the Mercedes Championships.
Furyk gives the same answer he does when asked about his advantage at The Players Championship, since he lives just down the street from the TPC at Sawgrass.
It's a golf course 50 weeks out of the year, and a tournament course the other two.
Besides, he comes to Kapalua to relax.
'I've played this course five times or less outside of the golf tournament,' Furyk said. 'It's actually prepared differently. The greens aren't as firm. They're not as quick. It's a different golf course. It's like living at TPC at Sawgrass, playing The Players Championship. It isn't the same golf course for the other 11 1/2 months. There's a tiny bit of an advantage just for sight lines, different things off the tee. But not tremendous.'
If he has an advantage, it comes from making so many trips to this tournament.
Furyk has missed the Mercedes Championships only once since it moved to Kapalua in 1999. He also played the old Lincoln-Mercury Invitational in the silly season, giving him 40 rounds of experience.
'If I haven't figured it out by now, it's never going to happen,' he said.
Stuart Appleby left the Mercedes Championships immediately after winning last year to get home to Australia, where his wife gave birth to their first child three days later.
Ashley is pregnant again, and it could mess with his schedule.
His American-born wife is due the first week of March, although she plans to have this child in Orlando, Fla., so travel won't be so difficult.
'It worked out nice last year because I stayed over there, then we played the Heineken Classic (in Melbourne), then I came back and played the end of the West Coast Swing,' Appleby said.
This birth is up against either the Accenture Match Play Championship at La Costa in California or Doral in Miami.
'The kid could come early,' he said. 'It be could L.A. (Riviera) or Match Play if it came early, which is going to be a bit of a hassle. But we'll see. If everything looks fine, we're going to do Wednesday of Doral.'
Should it come the week of Match Play, that might end his streak as the only player to compete in every World Golf Championship since the series began in 1999.
TIME TO REFLECT:
The last time Sean O'Hair came to Hawaii, he was making his PGA Tour debut at the Sony Open last year. Even now he has a hard time believing how far he has come.
'I think my first words for a PGA Tour event was, 'Holy cow, I just saw Ernie Els.' That was pretty cool,' he said.
The 23-year-old O'Hair won the John Deere Classic in July, finished 18th on the money list with nearly $2.5 million and was voted rookie of the year.
'I couldn't honestly tell you that I expected to be here,' he said, referring to the winners-only field. 'I feel sometimes I've got to pinch myself. But we've worked hard, and I guess the hard work pays off.'
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