This traditional curtain-raiser to the golfing year is restricted to players who won on the PGA Tour in 2007. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Padraig Harrington have opted out, leaving a field of just 31. As usual, the venue is the Plantation course at Kapalua, an exposed par-73 characterised by very generous fairways and unusually, five par-5s.
Hawaiian conditions are quite different from the PGA Tour norm, and its no surprise that numerous otherwise consistent players at this level have badly below-par records on the island. Consequently, narrowing this small field down to a small core of contenders has never been that difficult. The absence of that world-class foursome plus thrice Kapalua champion Stuart Appleby reduces the number of potential winners further this year.
From the recent history of this tournament, there?s no question that VIJAY SINGH is the man to beat this week. Vijay finally won the Mercedes last year, having made the top-5 in six of the previous seven years. Most of those places came behind course specialists like Els and Appleby and therefore carry even greater weight in this weaker field. Its no coincidence that Singh has thrived on a course that tends to reward the best long games, nor that this is the year?s opening event and he is the one player who never turns up for a tournament under-prepared or rusty.
Vijay shares favouritism with Furyk, a resident of Hawaii who is always to be respected here. He won the Mercedes in 2001, the highlight of a decent if unspectacular record here. I?m sure the ultra-consistent Furyk will once again be there or thereabouts, but am deterred from a bet at short odds because his relative lack of driving distance is a handicap on this course.
I?ve already mentioned KJ CHOI for the Money List, and am confident he will make a strong start to the season. He stands out amongst his similarly-priced rivals because of his proven record at Kapalua. Choi was runner-up at here in 2002, and finished a fair eighth last year with one poor round spoiling the scorecard.
RORY SABBATINI also has some previous at Kapalua, finishing second to Furyk in 2001 after missing a short putt. He?s a much improved player nowadays, especially over the past 12 months which has seen his stock rise considerably at this level. Rather like Choi, Sabbatini?s fine 2007 form may yet to be truly factored into his weekly and long-term odds.
If they can overcome the obvious disadvantage, course debutants Henrik Stenson and Angel Cabrera could be worth considering, but few others make appeal because they?re either not good enough or have never shown any significant form in Hawaii.
Only one outsider takes the eye, JONATHAN BYRD. He earned his place in this field by winning the John Deere Classic last July, and maintained a consistent level of form through till the end of the season. Byrd didn?t disgrace himself on both previous visits in this event, finishing 6th and 13th. Interestingly he ranks 1st in par-5 performance amongst this field over recent months.