KAPALUA --- The PGA Tour comes back to the Plantation Course on Monday, where it will get a little bit of respite from the global economy, wintry conditions on the Mainland and the troubles of the No. 1 player in the world.
A new title sponsor and a field that is 75 percent different from last season gives this 12th edition of the winners-only season opener on Maui a distinct feel of hope, even with serious issues facing the tour and only one former champion in the field.
Tiger Woods' well-documented tribulations will clearly be a hot topic for discussion amongst the 28 players who will be in the field, and his indefinite leave of absence cannot help the tour.
AP file photos
All four of last year’s major champions --- Angel Cabrera, Y.E. Yang, Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink --- are in this year’s SBS Championship field.
Still, the SBS Championship --- Seoul Broadcasting System has replaced Mercedes-Benz USA as the event sponsor --- is a new beginning.
''We're excited to have SBS as our title sponsor this year and going forward,'' tournament chairman Gary Planos said in his office amid several cell phone calls on Thursday. ''And it is exciting because this is the 12th year that we have hosted this tournament here. The golf course is in excellent shape and, of course, we have had tremendous weather. So, we just hope this weather we have had for the last five weeks or six weeks continues so the rest of the world can also enjoy what we have been enjoying.''
Scoring could be low if the forecast for wind speeds in the single digits holds up. The strongest wind called for through Saturday that Planos could find on the PGA weather Web site was 9 mph.
SBS CHAMPIONSHIP TICKETS
Practice rounds (one ticket for Monday and Tuesday)---$15 through Sunday, $20 after Sunday.
Pro-am (Wednesday), first round (Thursday) or second round (Friday)---$15 through Sunday, $20 after Sunday.
Third round (Jan. 9) or final round (Jan. 10)---$20 through Sunday, $30 after Sunday.
Season pass (Monday through Jan. 10)---$55 through Sunday, $80 after Sunday.
Contact---(877) 772-5425, kapalua.com
Children 16 and under admitted free when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult.
''In golf they call that a one-club wind,'' he said. ''Precipitation, all the way through Friday, maybe a little bit Tuesday, Wednesday, but very little, and only a 20 percent chance. The weather looks good.''
Ernie Els set a tour record by shooting 31 under par when the wind didn't blow much at the Plantation in 2003 --- the course was designed to be played in the trade winds. Last year, in moderate winds, Geoff Ogilvy won at 24 under.
''A little chance of rain on Tuesday and Wednesday and then zero chance on the other days --- I'll take those odds,'' Planos said.
A 10-year deal with SBS, Kapalua Resort and the tour, announced in May, is not yet finalized. SBS agreed to take this week's event, which would have been the final one in the third four-year contract for Mercedes at the Plantation, the standard length of tournament-sponsorship agreements.
''We are not finished with everything yet,'' Planos said. ''We are still working on this year and next year and we will see where we go, but we are excited that SBS is looking long-term. We just have to kind of take this one on and hopefully exceed their expectations, that is our goal. Our goal is to do 2010 and hopefully 2011 as best as we possibly can.''
SBS could expand the television viewing base in Asia.
''We are excited about the connection with SBS, in particular the country of Korea and generally the continent of Asia, and how golf is emerging more from that area in the future and to be a part of that connection,'' Planos said. ''With the Olympics including golf in 2016, there is quite a bit of potential and we feel that hopefully showing the island of Maui and the Plantation Course at Kapalua that we will be well-known. We hope there will be considerable growth in golfers from those areas and hopefully in tourism. Maybe not in the near term, but maybe farther down the road.''
Ogilvy is the only player in the field who has won an official tour event at Kapalua.
The other returning players from 2009 are Kenny Perry, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson, Brian Gay, Sean O'Hair and Dustin Johnson.
The field has just three players in the top 10 of the world rankings --- No. 3 Steve Stricker, No. 7 Paul Casey and No. 10 Perry --- and seven of the top 20.
Planos declined to talk in any way about Woods' apology for infidelity in his marriage and leave of absence from golf.
One player Planos is happy to see is 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang, a South Korean who dealt Woods his first loss ever when leading a major after 54 holes.
''Y.E. Yang is going to be a very popular figure here, particularly with SBS,'' Planos said. ''He is very honored to be participating and be representing his country here in the field of champions.''
The other 2009 major champions are also in the field --- Lucas Glover (U.S. Open), Cink (British Open), and Angel Cabrera (Masters) --- but the small number of returnees from last year is part of an ongoing challenge for organizers. Of the players who won in 2009, only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson are not in the field. Mickelson has not played at Kapalua since 2001, and Woods is skipping the event for the fifth straight time.
''To show you how difficult it is to win, we counted only seven champions from last year's field,'' Planos said. ''That's how difficult it is to win. It is a good thing in some ways, new faces, but then you miss the Ernie Elses, and the Sergio Garcias and the Stuart Applebys, also. It would help if some of the regulars here had won this year, but, hey, it can be a putt, it can be a shot here or there, that can determine whether you are here or not.''
Planos is frequently asked if changing the format is planned --- the most-discussed alteration is to let all past Kapalua champions into the event, regardless of whether they won the previous year.
The tour added the HSBC Championship in China, a World Golf Championship event, to the list of tournaments in which a win would qualify, but the 2009 HSBC was won by Mickelson.
''There is always discussion and there has been discussion since we started this event,'' Planos said. ''We always revert back with the tour to the simple formula of champions only.
''Some years the fields are better than others, but right now we are happy to be on the PGA Tour schedule. Look at Kapalua's history with the PGA Tour since 1982 (dating back to the unofficial Lincoln-Mercury International). It is a long history. A lot of that brings back a lot of great memories and relationships.''
Planos said he loves to see the fruits of winning.
''I have always enjoyed representing the brand of Kapalua and it has always been fun encouraging the players to win,'' he said. ''The perk for winning is to play in the SBS Championship and visiting Kapalua. I have always enjoyed that. ... You do it for a few years and you get to be remembered for what you do.''
Robert Collias is at email@example.com