PGA Tour's West Coast Swing begins at Kapalua Resort's Plantation golf course
KAPALUA, MAUI, Hawaii - The college football season ends with Thursday night's National Championship Rose Bowl tilt between Miami and Nebraska. The NBA and NHL are underway, but with seasons that seem to last longer than a trip to the dentist, the winter months in these respective sports are about as compelling as the Music City Bowl.
Sure, college hoops begins in earnest this week with the onset of conference play, and that in itself is a reason to celebrate the New Year.
But couldn't we all use a good dose of competitive professional golf, replete with big names, big stakes, and beautiful venues?
You want it, you got it.
The 2002 PGA Tour season kicks off Thursday morning bright and early with the playing of the Mercedes Championships. And what better way to repress the fact that your golf clubs are locked away in your closet, hiding from the wrath of old man winter, than to settle down in front of the boob tube for a few hours of golf live from sunny, soul-warming Maui.
The tournament format is just what the opening event of the season needs to foster some fan and player excitement. The winners from 2001's regular season events go head to head in an effort to capture the first title of the Tour's vaunted West Coast Swing.
Jim Furyk, one of the Tour's most consistent players, is the defending champ, having stolen the crown out from under Roy Sabbatini with a final round 67 and clutch birdie putt on the Plantation Course's 663-yard 18th hole.
The Mercedes' most memorable moment, however, came the year before. Tiger Woods and Ernie Els kicked off the 2000 season with a playoff after both players posted eagle on the aforementioned 18th - the longest hole on the Tour. Woods went on to win, but both players were forever engrained in the Plantation Course's history with a masterful display of golf.
The Course: Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore designed the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort, which is known for its bevy of dramatic holes that are carved through the property's pineapple fields, rolling green hills, and deep chasms.
The Plantation Course is quite capable of beating up the average golfer, but like the surrounding beaches the professionals have found this breathtaking track overly accommodating. Of the 54 golf courses used for the 2001 Tour season, the Plantation Course was the 51st most difficult layout. The 663-yard finishing hole plays downhill and with the wind, and bride has become the norm and not the exception for the flatbellies.
The Defending Champion: Jim Furyk has made a living off of finishing in the top ten in PGA Tour events. The former University of Arizona standout does use his consistent driving, solid ball striking and flashy flat blade to pocket a win from time to time. Furyk's 2001 Mercedes win was his only victory of the 2001 season, however he went on to pocket over $2.5 million in earning with eight top ten and 16 top 25 finishes.
The Favorites: Tiger Woods has won twice, in 2000 and 1995, and there is no reason to think he won't be out for blood as the 2002 season gets underway. Only Woods would have something to prove after capturing the money and scoring titles last year, as well as another green jacket and five tournament titles. Woods was a heavy favorite to win all four majors, but only delivered in one, that stat has him as angry as all get out. David Duval, coming off his 2001 British Open win last year, could challenge Woods and stake his claim as Wood's No. 1 Challenger.
Travel Center: The Kapalua resort opened in 1992, and offers a fitness center and spa, full-service beauty salon, three-tiered swimming pool, and white sand beach. Many rooms open to views of the neighboring island of Moloka'i and the West Maui Mountains. The Ritz, ranked No. 1 for service in Hawaii and third best in the world by the readers of Travel and Leisure, offers a host of benefits: Marble bathrooms, twice-daily maid service, a fully stocked honor bar, and terry bathrobes.
Since the Plantation Course will be in use if you are visiting during the Mercedes Championships, check out Kapalua Resort's Bay Course, designed by Arnold Palmer.
Tournament Fast Facts:
Champion: Jim Furyk
Purse: $4 million
Winning Share: $630,000
Winning Score: 274
T.V.: ESPN Thu. 8-10:30 p.m. ET; Fri. & Sat. 7:30-10:30 p.m. ET;
Sun. 4:30-7:30 p.m. ET
January 2, 2002