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Two in One for the PGA Tour

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For the first of five occasions in 2001, a pair of PGA Tour-sanctioned events will be contested in the same week.
 
The more prestigious will take place in Kapalua, Hawaii at The Plantation Course. The other will be played over a couple of courses in Tucson, Ariz.
 
The Mercedes Championships and the Touchstone Energy Tucson Open will kick-start the 2001 PGA Tour season - at least for most professionals.
 
Last week, the season officially began with the playing of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Melbourne, Australia. Of course, you're well aware of that story. Forty of the world's top players declined attendance, which allowed a then-91st ranked Steve Stricker to battle his way to victory (six of them, in fact), and a million-dollar jump on the rest of the Tour.
 
Next year, Stricker will be eligible for the Mercedes, which is on offer to the previous year's winners. But for now, he'll have to watch the '01 version on television. Stricker was scheduled to play in Tucson this week, though $1 million can certainly alter one's schedule.
 
Tucson will also be without a defending champion this week. That's because last year's winner, Jim Carter, is in the field in Hawaii. 32 other players, 18 of who were Down Under just a week ago, will join Carter.
 
Tiger Woods will defend the Mercedes. For the record, it's the first of nine times (not including the Johnnie Walker Classic) this year you'll be hearing 'Tiger Woods will defend .'
 
Woods won the 2000 event in dramatic fashion, matching an Ernie Els eagle at the 72nd hole, and then birdying each of the two playoff holes to capture his fifth-straight PGA Tour title, dating back to 1999.
 
Woods and 32 of his peers will do battle for $3.5 million, $630,00 of which will go to the winner, with $45,000 going to the last-place finisher.
 
There are no such guarantees in Tucson. 156 players will compete over the Omni Tucson National and The Gallery courses for $3 million. The winner gets $540,000. Those who miss the cut get bunk.
 
Both the Mercedes and the Touchstone Energy constitute the beginning of the West Coast Swing presented by The St. Paul. The unofficial competition is comprised of nine events, concluding at the Nissan Open. The player with the most points overall will receive a $500,000 bonus as 'King of the Swing.' Phil Mickelson captured the honor in 1998, while Woods was awarded the distinction the past two years.