Let the encores begin on PGA Tour

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Masters champion Phil Mickelson stopped coming to Kapalua in 2002, while British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen decided to stay home for the Africa Open this week. PGA champion Martin Kaymer of Germany opted not to join the PGA Tour or play in Hawaii. Two other Europeans who won on tour, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, opted to stay on vacation.

Also missing is Woods, this time not by choice. He failed to win anywhere in the world, much less the PGA Tour, and failed to qualify for the event.

At least this time, his absence is not such a topic of conversation. His unfolding sex scandal and the uncertainty when he would return dominated headlines last season. Now that he’s back to playing golf, the question is whether he can play like he once did.

That can wait until his return later this month at Torrey Pines.

In some respects, the Tournament of Champions might be the easiest event to win on tour. While it’s the only tournament all year with only PGA Tour winners from the previous year, some of them have been in hibernation.

Steve Stricker went nearly two months without playing after the Ryder Cup, returned for a couple of weeks in December, then headed out to Phoenix to start shaking off the rust. When he realized it was not much warmer than his home in Wisconsin, he kept flying west until he landed in paradise.

Ian Poulter, whose season really only ended three weeks ago, was in the Bahamas with his family and didn’t arrive until Monday night. He did not play the massive elevation changes and spacious greens on the Plantation course until his pro-am Wednesday.

Poulter could find the first tee because it’s in front of the clubhouse. He knew the 18th was a par 5. And that’s about it.

The advantage tends to go to the Australians, many of whom have been playing Down Under in the weeks leading to Kapalua. Ogilvy has won the last two years, and a win this week would tie him with Stuart Appleby, another Australian who won three straight years at Kapalua.

“We just play a little bit later and we are competitive more recently than they are,” said Ogilvy, speaking to a 10-year drought of American players winning this event. “But you don’t forget how to play golf in five weeks. I think it’s more a coincidence than anything else.”

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