Florida Swing Starts at Ford

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The PGA Tour swings south, but the defending champion wont be there to greet the rest of the field of 144 in the Ford Championship.
 
Ernie Els decided to take the appearance money and run east ' Middle East, that is ' to the Dubai Desert Classic, where he is also the defending champion.
 
The South African has already won four events this year ' two on the PGA Tour and two on the European Tour. He won the Ford last year by holding off Tiger Woods. Els blew an eight-shot lead in the final round, but managed to win by two.
 
Woods won't challenge Els in the desert. He opted not to go for fear of an impending war in Iraq. Woods will also skip the Ford. He will next play in two weeks at Bay Hill, where as the three-time defending champion he will meet Els for the first time in a medal-play tournament this year.
 
While the top-2 ranked players in the world will not be in attendance, the field isnt hurting for talent. West Coast Swing winner Mike Weir is in, as are Rich Beem, David Duval, 2000 winner Jim Furyk, Pebble Beach champion Davis Love III, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Price, and Match Play runner-up David Toms.
 
Phil Mickelson, who is now sponsored by Ford, had planned on playing but has now withdrawn because his wife is expecting their third child any day. He said he also planned on skipping the Honda, Bay Hill and The Players Championship, hoping to return for the BellSouth Classic, the week before the year's first major.
 
Two-time Doral winner Jack Nicklaus will be playing in his first PGA Tour event of the season. He competed in only his Memorial Tournament and two Champions Tour events last season because of injury. This year, the slimmed down and healthier 63-year-old has already played in three tournaments on the elder circuit.
 
Els absence means he wont be able to join Raymond Floyd as the only player to successfully defend his title at Doral. Floyd won in 1980 and 81, and again in 92. At the age of 49, he became the fifth oldest player in tour history to win. Floyd also helped redesign the course, dubbed the Blue Monster, in 1996.
 
The par-72 Blue Course at Doral measures 7,125 yards. It has been played in each of the tournaments 42 years.
 
This years purse has been upped to $5 million, with $900,000 going to the winner.
 
Related Links
  • PGA Tour Statistical Preview
  • Full coverage of the Ford Championship