- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2012

KAPALUA, HAWAII (AP) - One par was worth two trophies. One tournament paid Bill Haas just over $11.4 million.

He starts over with a clean slate Friday at the Tournament of Champions, with one less perk than the other winners from last season. Haas won the Tour Championship, the one PGA Tour event in which the winner is not guaranteed a chance to defend his title.

Haas will have to play well over the next eight months, then work his way through the FedEx Cup playoffs and be among the top 30 players who get to East Lake for a shot at the $10 million bonus.

“The goal is to be consistent and try to get back to the Tour Championship to give myself that chance to defend,” he said Thursday. “If I don’t defend, hopefully it’s because I finish 31st and my year was still somewhat successful.

“We’ll just see how I’m feeling about that in October.”

That seems like such a long way off. There are still four majors ahead of him, including a return to The Olympic Club in San Francisco for the U.S. Open, and to Royal Lytham & St. Annes for the British Open. There is that huge incentive of making the Ryder Cup team; Haas played his first team event two months ago at Royal Melbourne in the Presidents Cup.

It’s a lot to digest. And there’s a lot of competition.

Even though 11 players decided not to play _ or because of injuries, could not play _ in the winners-only tournament that kicks off the new season, all anyone has to do is look around at some of the new faces.

Twelve players in the 28-man field are at Kapalua for the first time. Nine of the players are in their 20s.

“Right now it seems that young is good,” said Steve Stricker, who turns 45 next month.

Stricker is making his fourth consecutive trip to Maui, the longest streak of any player in the field. It’s a familiar start to the season. Not so familiar are some of the guys he’ll be trying to beat. A year ago Stricker didn’t know who some of them were.

Keegan Bradley? He was known more as the nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley until he won two times, including that unlikely comeback in Atlanta to capture the PGA Championship in his first try at a major.

Jhonattan Vegas was the first PGA Tour member from Venezuela. Scott Stallings? Brendan Steele?

“I know them now a little bit,” Stricker said Thursday on the eve of the opening round.

The PGA Tour season gets under way Friday. It wants to get away from the NFL playoffs on Sunday, so the final round will end Monday just before the BCS Championship game starts.

Story Continues →