A new season starts on the PGA Tour

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The new faces at Kapalua are not the only difference.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods are no longer part of the top 10 in the world ranking. There are no Americans among the top five for the first time in nearly two decades. And even without the likes of U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel or Martin Kaymer in Hawaii, the young guys are making a strong push.

“There’s been a transformation of players out here, and it was going to happen eventually,” said Stricker, who turns 45 next month. “We saw Tiger and Phil slip out of the top 10, and we have some European players coming in there _ young European players and young Americans _ playing well and stepping right up early on in their careers. So it’s fun to see.”

Haas is among those players expected to take his game up another notch. He has known all along that it’s not easy to get to the next level, having Jay Haas as his father.

“I guess I knew going in … obviously, I was a cocky young kid, but I knew how good everybody was,” he said. “I was playing with my dad on the weekend and getting beat every time. Inside, I knew I wasn’t quite good enough yet to be as cocky as I was. I got out on the Nationwide Tour, wanting to be out here, thinking I deserved to be out here.

“But I quickly learned you don’t deserve to be out here,” he said. “You earn everything.”

And now, everyone starts at zero.

Stricker hopes he gets some advantage through his experience on the Plantation Course, unlike any other course on tour. It was built on a mountain, offering severe changes in elevation, massive greens with slope and grain, and uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean.

The surf has been particularly strong on Maui this week, and it creates quite the contrast. Players working their way along the back nine can look down the cliffs and see the ocean littered with surfers off the point at Honolua Bay.

It’s relaxing, but it’s still work.

The winners get a small head start on the rest of the PGA Tour in a short field with no cut, essentially free money from the $5.6 million purse and a jump in the FedEx Cup standings.

It worked beautifully last year for Jonathan Byrd, who won his final event of 2010 to qualify for Kapalua, then opened his season with a playoff win over Robert Garrigus.

Byrd was walking through the Maui airport when he saw promotional posters of him on the wall. His son, Jackson, looked at the poster and said, “Dad, I think you’re famous.”

Byrd’s reply: “At least for this week I am.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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