Here We Go Again

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KAPALUA, Hawaii -- So here we are on the island of Maui. And you wonder where 2003 ended and where 2004 begins. Well, it begins here. And all you can say as you soak up the sun, the surf and the golf is, How good is this?!

OK, so according to locals, last weekend they had the biggest storm in some 20 years. Big deal. Thirteen inches of rain in two days. Seven inches fell on Friday and eight on Saturday when my plane touched down.

But guess what? The courses drain so well, and the grounds crew is so good that youd never know it by the looks of things. This place is paradise!

So we begin anew after a year of the amazing. Thirty-one players won the PGA Tours 48 events in 03. The field this week, however, totals 30 because David Toms is out with a bad wrist that required surgery and will keep him out until at least the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Would you believe that some 72 players earned at least $1-million last year? Its true.

There were eight multiple winners including Tiger Woods, who, at last check during a rainy Saturday had his agent on the phone to Mercedes Championships officials checking on the weather before jetting over for a few early practice rounds.
 
Seven first-time winners made their way here this week. None more recognizable than British Open champ Ben Curtis from Kent, Ohio who told me that Kent States football team had a surprisingly decent season. (Always love a guy who can go beyond golf.)

Shaun Micheel is here too. The PGA champ was hanging out in the Ritz Carlton Hotel lobby with his grandparents, wife and six-week old child. Steve Flesch is on board this week at the Mercedes. He has two kids in tow. Young son Griffin was holding court in the same lobby about two hours earlier. Griff was checking out the band, asking questions to the guitarist about the number of strings he had on his instrument.

The Mercedes Championships means success. Its as simple as that. Winners only ' thank you. Its old hat for guys like Tiger and Davis, Ernie and Vijay. But for others like J.L. Lewis and Tommy Armour, Jake and Stads this is big doings.

As I see it, this is as big an event as they come on the PGA Tour. You have to have done something to get to the lobby at the Ritz or the Kapalua Bay Hotel. Just ask Crane or another first timer like Jonathan Kaye ' who, by the way, was eating macaroni and cheese for dinner Monday night.

Simple tastes turn into complicated lives for PGA Tour winners. Theyre finding it out this week. And by the way, with all that rain, dont expect another 31-under par victory total like Ernie Els put up last year. Its too wet and theres too little roll in the fairway as I see it. How about 26-under? Sound about right? I think so.

More than a $1-million will go to the winner and dont be surprised if it goes to Tiger Woods. Do you think he has the money title in his mind in 04? Gee, I wonder.
 
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