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PGA Tour pros ease into 2013 with zip-lining and whale-watching in Maui

Steve Stricker, Kapalua
Kohjiro Kinno/SI
Steve Stricker is the defending champion at Kapalua.

KAPALUA, Maui -- Carl Pettersson pulled his golf cart up to the empty driving range just before 9 a.m. Tuesday, New Year's Day, his caddie riding shotgun as they got back to work in anticipation of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the hilly Plantation Course. The sun was shining, and the only noise was provided by the gentle, warm breeze riffling through the leaves of the trees.

(Related Photos: SI's Best Images of 2012)

As momentous beginnings go, it was hardly a cannon blast, but this was what the start of the 2013 PGA Tour season looked like at Kapalua, where the limited-field, no-cut tournament doesn't start until Friday, and player registration opened at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Players' first order of business, after the perfunctory introductions: picking up their $100 gift certificates to the resort's handful of restaurants. There's also zip-lining and whale-watching to plan at the Hyundai TOC/Working Vacation.

As usual, some of the pre-tournament talk has been about who's not here. Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Tiger Woods and Justin Rose -- the top four players in the world -- qualified for Maui with victories last year but opted not to play. So did Open champion and 2003 Hyundai TOC winner Ernie Els, and Phil Mickelson.

Ian Poulter, who qualified for the Hyundai TOC with a late win at the WGC-HSBC Champions, sounded iffy on Twitter. "I'm going to try and find the middle of the Face the next 2 days," he tweeted before attending the Magic-Heat game in Orlando on Monday. "If I do I will board the Wednesday plane ride to Maui."

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If Poulter opts out it will leave only 29 players in the field, but the no-shows hardly dim the enthusiasm of those who are here. Each absence means more cash for those who make the trip, and the purse is still $5.7 million -- $1.14 million to the winner.

"Win a golf tournament, hopefully," three-time Tour winner Keegan Bradley said, when asked what he had planned for the week. Bradley shot 65 in the final round to finish 16th at the 2012 Hyundai TOC, and he lives to compete, as he demonstrated most recently at the Ryder Cup last fall. But as he waited for his caddie, Steve Hale, and looked around at his surroundings, he sounded as if he might reconsider and sign up for some extracurricular activities, after all.

"Maybe I will, actually," said Bradley, who is here alone and made the 17-hour trip (flying commercial) from Florida on Monday. "I never do that stuff."

Not that "that stuff" always turns out well. Geoff Ogilvy, who was the two-time defending champion here in 2011, cut his finger on a coral reef, took 12 stitches and withdrew before he could try to make it three straight. Lucas Glover hurt his knee while paddle-boarding last year and also WD'd. If you want to see a game face at the Hyundai Tourniquet of Champions, the best place to look is the zip-line course or the shore break as players try valiantly not to maim themselves.

Scott Piercy, who qualified for Kapalua by virtue of his victory at the RBC Canadian Open, has had no trouble adapting to the mellow Maui vibe. He's here with "about 25 people" and staying at the Westin Kaanapali, where he has a time-share. They arrived Dec. 27, and Piercy admits he's hardly been grinding.

"It's been tough to get too serious about the game," he said.

Zach Johnson's family stayed home. His wife, Kim, is back in St. Simons Island, Ga., with the couple's three kids, the youngest of whom is only 8 weeks old. "That'll be our last one," Johnson said as he zoomed off to a photo shoot off-site. He returned to the course to begin his preparations in earnest a few hours later.

Bradley played the front nine in about 90 minutes, flying around the hilly course in a golf cart with only his caddie, Steve Hale, and ducked into the player dining room for some potato chips and other provisions before venturing out onto the back nine. Defending champion Steve Stricker and his caddie were playing the par-5 18th in a light rain that turned much heavier before lunch.

Caddie Joe Skovron, still shaking off some mild jet lag after an uneventful flight from Southern California on Monday, was taking his first look at the course Tuesday without his boss, Wells Fargo Championship winner Rickie Fowler.

"I've been hearing it for a few months now, that this is the toughest one of the year to walk," Skovron said. "I'm ready to sweat it out, even though I'll take a cart today. This is my first time here, so I'm more focused on seeing the course than the fun stuff. I'm sure I'll get into some of the other activities later."

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