Familiar Faces Return to Mercedes

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As fans walked around the grounds of the Plantation Course at Kapalua during last years Mercedes Championships, more than tee-time sheets were necessary in determining one player from another.
 
Fans would ask for an autograph and then view the scribbling to see whose signature they had just received.
 
Last years Mercedes Championships was case-in-point why professionals put their names on their bags.
 
It wasnt that Joe Public hadnt heard of Chris Riley or Jonathan Byrd or Kevin Sutherland or Spike McRoy or John Rollins. But put them all together, and have the likes of them comprise the majority of a limited field, and it can make it very difficult for the casual fan to distinguish one from another.
 
Such will not be the case this year.
 
Absent are: Dan Forsman, Bob Burns, Gene Sauers and J.P. Hayes. In are: Tiger Woods, Davis Love III and Mike Weir.
 
There were 36 players in last years event ' only six have returned.
 
The season-opening tournament is limited to the previous years winners, and in 2002 there were 18 first-time winners on the PGA Tour. That meant for plenty of maiden Mercedes participants.
 
Last year, however, there were only seven first-time winners, while there were 11 different champions aged 40 and over.
 
Out are: Ian Leggatt, Luke Donald and Matt Gogel. In are: Fred Couples, Peter Jacobsen and Craig Stadler.
 
Simply put, the faces will match the names in 2004 ' out with the new, in with the old.
 
This years field consists of 30 players, which means there are 24 who didnt compete a year ago.
 
Some, like Woods, Love and Weir are back from a one-year layoff. Others are making more long-awaited returns.
 
Tommy Armour III is back for the first time in 13 years; Bob Tway and Peter Jacobsen for the first time since 1996. Craig Stadler hasn't played in this tournament since 97, and Fred Couples, who was a television commentator at this event last year, is a participant for the first time since 99.
 
Jim Furyk, the 2001 winner who owns a home at Kapalua, has the longest running attendance mark at the Mercedes; he is making his sixth straight start.
 
Tiger Woods, who won in 1997 and 2000, would have held the longest streak ' he has qualified for the last eight ' but his was snapped when he had to sit out last years edition while recovering from off-season knee surgery.
 
While Woods was resting and recovering, Ernie Els was dominating.
 
Els annihilated the field last year, booming drives and making every imaginable putt on his way to a PGA Tour 72-hole scoring record in relation to par.
 
Els finished at 31-under-par 261; eight strokes clear of runners-up Rocco Mediate and K.J. Choi.
 
He went on to complete the Hawaiian sweep by winning the Sony Open the following week. He won seven times worldwide, as well as the European Tour Order of Merit.
 
A win at the Mercedes is usually an indicator that better things are to come. Over the last 11 years, the winner has eight times gone on to claim at least one other PGA Tour title that season.
 
This years winner will receive $1,060,000 of the $5.3 million purse. The par-73, 7,263-yard Plantation Course is hosting the event for the sixth successive year.
 
There have been six repeat champions: Gene Littler won three consecutive times from 1955-57; Jack Nicklaus in 1963-64; Arnold Palmer 1965-66; Tom Watson 1979-80; Lanny Wadkins 1982-83.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Mercedes Championships
  • Mercedes Championships Field
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