KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) Only winners are invited to Kapalua to start the new season at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, making it perhaps the toughest of all PGA Tour events to join.
Once in paradise, it might be the easiest tournament all year to win.
For starters, only 31 players are in the field. Thirteen have never competed on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, with its mountainous terrain, massive greens and severe slopes. And while all of these guys know what it takes to win, most haven't hit a meaningful shot in more than a month.
"Never thought of it that way," Mark Calcavecchia said. "There's 31 guys here this year, and there's 30 at the Tour Championship. But Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson aren't here, so that increases your chances of winning greatly. I might have to agree with you on that."
In what is becoming a tradition the tour could do without, the top two players in the world ranking have decided to sit out opening day. Woods, who won at Kapalua in 2000, cited a desire to spend more time with his family. Mickelson, who hasn't played at Kapalua since 2001, did not give the tournament a reason.
Also missing this week are British Open champion Padraig Harrington, who traditionally takes his one full month off in January, and Adam Scott of Australia, who withdrew over the weekend citing exhaustion.
That leaves only four of the top 10 in the world at Kapalua to start the year Thursday, and few complaining about it. Most of them are simply thrilled to be in these parts, reminded of what they did to get a starting time.
Six players got in after the FedEx Cup season ended, winning in the Fall Series. That list includes former Masters champion Mike Weir, former British Open champion Justin Leonard and Chad Campbell, who said his victory in the Viking Classic "turned a below-average year into a pretty good one."
Two guys haven't been to Kapalua in six years - Steve Stricker and Scott Verplank, whose previous victory was in 2001.
Stricker was among the first to arrive, getting in a few practice rounds on the weekend when the weather was decent, playing in shorts that showed what appeared to be a tan line around his ankles.
"It was from the summer," said Stricker, who has been up to his knees in snow at home in Wisconsin.
Paul Goydos hasn't been to a tournament at Kapalua since it was part of the silly season. He used to play in the Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International, a field of about 100 players held in the late fall.
"It was much easier to get into that event than this one," Goydos said. "But I think the Mercedes is almost the most important tournament of the year. This is the event you play in because you accomplished, at least for one week, the goals you have every week. Take away the Grand Slam of Golf (for only major winners), and it's a pretty hard field to get in."