Mercedes will be without some big names

The short offseason has been blown aside by the Kona winds, ushering in the season-opening 2003 Mercedes Championships on the shores of Hawaii.

The tournament of 2002 champions is 36 players strong, but it will be without some of the biggest names in the game. Five of the top 10 players in the world -- including the top two -- won't be in Kapalua this week.

No. 1 Tiger Woods will be missing his first tournament due to injury, out until mid-February rehabbing his knee after Dec. 12 arthroscopic surgery; second-ranked Phil Mickelson is taking a break after a busy silly season; and David Toms, Padraig Harrington and Davis Love III won't be playing because they failed to earn a win in 2002.

What that means is an opportunity for defending champion Sergio Garcia, Ernie Els and company to get a jump on the rest of the best -- and kick back a little and enjoy the spoils of their successful 2002 seasons. There won't be a cut, and the $5 million purse will be shared by only the 36 participants. In other words, no one will be voted off the island.

Facts and figures

  • Garcia, who took last year's title in a playoff with Toms, is one of only two former Mercedes winners in the field. Jim Furyk is the other.

  • There will be a record 18 first-timers this year, while only eight players in the field played in last year's Mercedes.

  • Nick Price is back for the first time in four years and Dan Forsman returns after a 10-year absence. But Gene Sauers beats 'em both. He's back for the first time since 1990.

  • The Kapalua Resort will host the Mercedes for the fifth time in the event's 51-year history. Previously (from 1983-1997), the resort was the site of the Kapalua Invitational, a silly season event.

  • The winner of this year's event also gets the keys to a new Mercedes-Benz SL500 Sport.

    Five to watch
    Ernie Els
    Sergio Garcia
    Charles Howell III
    Vijay Singh
    Jim Furyk

    Darkhorse favorite
    Luke Donald

    Good luck
    Spike McRoy