KAPALUA, Hawaii, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Being in Maui for the PGA Tour’s season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship is almost a double bonus for every player in the field, according to Adam Scott.
The elite $5.6 million event brings together winners from the previous season, giving each of them the chance to get a jump-start on their rivals before next week’s Sony Open, the first full-field tournament of the year.
“It’s great to start in Maui because it means you’ve won an event the year before,” Australian Scott, 28, told reporters at the Kapalua Resort on Tuesday during preparation for Thursday’s opening round.
“You can get your year off to a fast start with a good week here, so that’s really the goal. I’m just looking forward to playing again. It’s been a while.”
Although surfing enthusiast Scott fully appreciates the holiday atmosphere and beauty of the island of Maui, he does not view either as a handicap in getting to grips with tournament golf.
“I think you’ve got to use both to your advantage,” said the world number 15, who booked his place in the Kapalua field by winning last year’s Byron Nelson Championship.
“It’s nice and relaxed here. It’s a small field and it’s Hawaii, which is obviously great.
“But all of us come here with a purpose, just like every other week, and that’s to win. So you want to hit the ground running. I’m definitely looking for a big week here.”
American Stewart Cink agreed.
“It’s certainly a bonus being here, although I don’t know about a double bonus,” Cink told Reuters.
“You get to play in warm weather in the sunshine and wind in a beautiful location, well away from the cold of most parts of the U.S. mainland.
“And it’s great to get a jump-start on the season,” added the five-times PGA Tour winner, whose most recent victory came at last year’s Travelers Championship.
Asked if the idyllic surrounds and laidback atmosphere provided an unwelcome distraction, Cink replied: “No, we’re here to play tournament golf and this is a lot better than just practising at home.”
Thirty-three players will be competing for the first title on the 2009 PGA Tour, although there are four notable absentees from last year’s list of tournament winners.
World number one Tiger Woods is still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery while second-ranked Spaniard Sergio Garcia, American Phil Mickelson (third) and Irishman Padraig Harrington (fourth) have opted not to play.
However, seven of the world’s top 15 will be competing on Kapalua’s hilly, par-73 Plantation Course — including fifth-ranked Fijian Vijay Singh, Colombia’s Camilo Villegas (seventh) and South African Ernie Els (ninth).
Swede Daniel Chopra will be defending the title he won last year in a playoff with American Steve Stricker. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)