The serene setting of Kapalua, Hawaii provides the backdrop to the first event of the year ' a year which will end with a mad dash for $10 million.
For the next 33 weeks, players will be battling for points that will qualify them for the first playoff system in mens golf. For the record, 144 players will earn entry into the first of four events that comprise the playoff. Field sizes will be reduced after each tournament. The 30 players with the most points will advance to the TOUR Championship, where they will compete for a $10 million annuity.
There are 34 players in the Mercedes-Benz field this year. That does not include Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, both of who have twice won this event and both of who opted to skip it once again.
Woods, who is missing out for the second consecutive year, said a busy 'off'-season left him ill-prepared for the season-opener. Instead, he will try to extend his PGA TOUR winning streak to seven at the Buick Invitational, where he is the two-time defending champion.
Meanwhile, Mickelson, who hasn't played here since 2001, decided that he would prefer to spend more time with his family and will make his 2007 debut two weeks later at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.
Of those qualifiers who made the trip to Hawaii, 13 are making their first appearance in the lid-lifter: J.B. Holmes, Arron Oberholser, Aaron Baddeley, Chris Couch, Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry, Trevor Immelman, John Senden, Dean Wilson, Will Mackenzie, Eric Axley, D.J. Trahan and Troy Matteson.
There is also a group of players who have been here before, but not in some time. That would include Tim Herron and Jeff Maggert, who are making their first appearances since 2000, and Corey Pavin, who last played this event in 1997.
Then there are the regulars, guys like: Jim Furyk, who is making his 10th start in the last 12 years; Vijay Singh, who has played in 11 of the last 14, including this year; and David Toms, who is making his seventh appearance.
And then there is Stuart Appleby. Appleby is the defending champion ' as he was last year, and the year before that. Appleby has won this event each of the last three years and is trying to become just the fifth player in TOUR history to win the same event on four consecutive occasions.
I'm short of words, Appleby said after defeating Singh in a playoff in 2006. To win it? First time great. Second time awesome. Third time, it's the wrong English, but more awesomer.
A fourth win would be the most awesomest of his career then.
The Mercedes-Benz marks the first of back-to-back weeks on the Hawaiian Islands. Next up is the Sony Open, where Michelle Wie will once again try and make the cut in a mens event, and where many of the Nationwide and Q-school graduates will get their first shots at retaining their cards.
Then, its off to California, for the Bob Hope.
The West Coast Swing will consist of nine tournaments, including the inaugural Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
The Golf Channel begins its partnership with the TOUR by broadcasting all four rounds of the two Hawaiian tournaments as well as all five rounds of the Bob Hope.
Players and fans alike are curious to see how things will shape up this season, and it all begins on The Plantation Course.
Here are our five favorites this week:
Its hard to imagine that Appleby could win this thing yet again ' then again, who would have thought that he would have won it a second or third time? Over the last three years, the Aussie is a combined 51 under par at Kapalua. Should he prevail for a fourth straight year, he would join Woods (Bay Hill, 2000-2003), Gene Sarazen (Miami Open 1926, 1928-30 (no event in 1927)), Walter Hagen (PGA Championship, 1924-27), and Young Tom Morris (Open Championship, 1868-70, 1872 (no event in 1871)) as the only players in TOUR history to win the same event on four consecutive occasions.
Singh is coming off a lucrative, but disappointing 2006 season. He finished fourth on the money list with over $4.6 million. However, he won only once; the first time since 2001 that he hadnt won multiple events. Singh has a remarkable record in this tournament, despite not having won it. He has finished inside the top 5 six of the last seven years, and was runner-up in 2006 and 2004.
Furyk owns a home near the 18th hole at Kapalua, and the course has treated him quite well over the years. He won here in 2001 and has top-5s on three other occasions, including a third-place showing last year. Furyk has risen to No. 2 in the world ranking. This could be the year in which he proves that he is the biggest challenger to Tigers throne.
Sergio Garcia, in 2002, is the last player to win this event on his first try. If someone is to duplicate that feat this year, then it may well be Holmes. The Plantation Course measures 7,411 yards and can play even longer depending on which way the wind is blowing. Recent winners of this event include Appleby, Ernie Els, Garcia, Woods, David Duval and Mickelson ' all big boppers. Holmes was second on the TOUR in driving distance in his rookie season. He also got off to a hot start in 06 by winning the FBR Open, before cooling off down the stretch. He may be ready to start another early-season run.
A Mercedes-Benz victory would look nice on Scotts resume, which includes a Players Championship and a TOUR Championship. Scott officially ended 06 by capturing the season finale in Atlanta. It was his first win of the year ' and he wants to avoid another long drought in 07. Scott would love to get off to a fast start this year; winning this week would obviously be a good way to do it ' and it would keep an Aussie in the winners circle for the fourth straight year. He has a couple of top-10s in two previous appearances.