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A New Trophy That Will Have to Wait

PGA Tour (75x100)KAPALUA, Hawaii -- The PGA TOUR is so fired up about its new FedExCup that it held a reception on the eve of the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship to show off the new trophy.

The more tangible trophy -- at least this week -- is stationed near the entrance to the Plantation Course at Kapalua. It's a sports car from the title sponsor that goes to the winner, along with a $1.1 million check and a guarantee of returning to Maui next year.

That much is known.

FedEx Cup
Players in the field in Maui have two trophies on their minds this week.
Everything else about the FedExCup, a season-long points race that begins Thursday, remains somewhat of a mystery.

Points will be distributed at every tournament through Aug. 19, a week after the PGA Championship. The points will be reset for the top 144 players so that no one is too far ahead (Tiger Woods comes to mind), and then players will be gradually eliminated at three 'playoff' tournaments until the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship. Whoever has the most points wins $10 million.

That's the short version.

Questions that remain include whether players will compete more often during the FedExCup season, and there is little evidence of that. Woods and Phil Mickelson both are absent at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Adam Scott already pulled out of next week's Sony Open to take a vacation. He said he wouldn't play more than his usual 18 or 19 tournaments.

Jim Furyk likes to play a little more, and he'll be playing a lot more than he wants at the end of the year. Because he feels compelled to defend his title at the Canadian Open, Furyk will go from Scotland to Canada to Ohio to Oklahoma in four weeks starting in mid-July, take a week off, then go from New York to Boston to Chicago to Atlanta in another four-week stretch.

That's assuming he plays well, and since Furyk is No. 2 in the world and hasn't finished worse than 20th on the money list the last 10 years that he has been healthy, it's a safe assumption.

'There's probably some events that I've played in the past that I might not be able to this year,' he said. 'Last year I played 24 events, plus the Ryder Cup. So that's 25 events in 10 months and a week. I can't play that same number of events in eight-and-a-half months. It's kind of getting squished.'

Another question is the significance of being the first FedExCup champion.

The PGA Tour is trotting out a series of commercials asking that question, although based on comments from the players, there are four other events that have been around quite a bit longer that still command everyone's attention.

They're called majors.

'The FedExCup is going to be a nice feather in your cap,' U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy said. 'But I don't think there's a golfer in the world who wouldn't rather win a major.'

The biggest question of all is whether anyone is paying attention in the final, climatic weeks of the season.

One reason the PGA Tour revamped its schedule to create the FedExCup was to get golf away from football season. The majors end in August, and the dozen tournaments that followed were dwarfed by the NFL and college football. Then came the Tour Championship, which was similar to an All-Star game until the stars (Woods comes to mind again) didn't show up.

'The season ... after the PGA has kind of been on a gentle, downward slide,' Furyk said. 'And I don't think that's going to be the case, anymore. The PGA is going to end, and the nice thing about the system is it's not like two months later, you try to get everyone revved up again. Everyone is still revved up from the PGA.'

But that's in August. This is January, and 34 players who showed up at Kapalua would like nothing better to start the year with a victory, just as they did with or without a FedExCup.

And that usually means beating Stuart Appleby.

He is the three-time defending champion of the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and will try this week to tie a PGA Tour record by winning the same event four straight times. Woods was the last player to do that at the Bay Hill Invitational (2000-2003).

Appleby won in 2004 by building a six-shot lead and holding off a furious charge from Vijay Singh for a one-shot victory. A year later, he let Singh, Ernie Els and a host of others make mistakes on the back nine for another one-shot victory. And last year, he birdied the last hole twice, the second time in a playoff, to beat Singh again.

Appleby has taken 825 shots on the Plantation course the last three years. Singh has taken 829 shots. Those four shots are the difference between one guy driving off with three new sports cars and the other guy taking a shuttle.

Except for playing in Australia during the offseason and not having as much rust as some other players, Appleby can't figure out why he has won nearly half his PGA Tour victories on this island.

'There's nothing typical about this golf course that says I should do well,' he said. 'It's hilly -- I didn't grow up on hilly golf courses. Windy, yes, I'm used to wind. Bermuda (grass), I never grew up on that. I just feel comfortable here. I can play well here, and usually I'm playing well when I come here.'

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