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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 2, 2003

Defending champ Garcia highlights Mercedes field

• Miyazato says he's turning pro

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  2003 Mercedes Championships

WHAT: PGA Tour season-opening event featuring 36 of the 2002 tournament champions

WHERE: Kapalua Plantation Course (Par 36-37i73, 7,263 yards)

WHEN: From approximately 10:30 a.m. next Thursday-Saturday (Jan. 9-11) and 10 a.m. Sunday (Jan. 12)

PRO-AM: Next Wednesday, (Jan. 8) shotgun starts from 7 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.

PURSE: $5 million ($1 million first prize, plus a Mercedes-Benz SL500)

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Sergio Garcia (18-under 274)

TICKETS: Season tickets (good for Jan. 6-12) $70. Three-day practice round tickets (Monday-Wednesday) $20. Daily prices $20 Thursday or Friday, $30 Saturday or Sunday. Children (16-under) free with ticket-holding adult.

TELEVISION (tentative, all times HST): ESPNi2-5:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2-5 p.m. Sunday.

A year ago, "El Niño" blew into Maui to win the Mercedes Championships in a playoff with David Toms. Spain's Sergio Garcia will be back next week to defend in the PGA Tour's season-opening event at Kapalua Plantation.

Garcia turns 23 next Thursday — the day the tournament begins.

The field is made up of 36 of last year's 38 winners. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson — the top two money winners in 2002 — are the only winners who declined the invitation. Most will move on to the Sony Open in Hawai'i the following week (Jan. 16-19) on O'ahu.

This year's field has more international players than ever and 18 first-time winners, including Charles Howell III, who honeymooned at Kapalua in 2001, and 2002 Sony Open champion Jerry Kelly, who also has given the Plantation a trial run on vacation.

"You hit more fun shots there than I have seen anywhere," Kelly says. "I love that place. There is so much to it. It is a big theater for golf with those blowing winds. Where else do you have to hit so many different types of shots?"

The Mercedes Championships will feature 13 1/2 hours of prime-time coverage on the East Coast on ESPN. The cable network will also televise the tournament the next three years.

A four-year contract extension was signed last year by Kapalua, Mercedes, the PGA Tour and ESPN. The tournament has been at the Plantation since 1999. Future dates will be Jan. 8-11, 2004, Jan. 6-9, 2005 and Jan. 5-8, 2006.

Advance tickets can be purchased at Kapalua's Golf Pro Shops, The Honolua Store and The Logo Shop as well as through Ticketmaster at (877)-804-0472 (toll free) or at pgatour.com or ticketmaster.com.

Free shuttles to the tournament will be available from West Maui and Kahului. Call the tournament office on Maui (669-2440) for schedules.

The Mercedes Dealer championships National Final is held in conjunction with the tour event. A dozen amateur teams qualified, with more than 15,000 players participating. The tournament raised $875,000 for the American Heart Association.

Miyazato says he's turning pro

Japanese collegiate golfer Yusaku Miyazato announced Sunday that he will make his professional debut at the Sony Open in Hawai'i, Jan. 16-19 at Waialae Country Club.

Miyazato, from Okinawa, made the announcement after finishing second at the Asia-Japan Okinawa Open to match his career high on the Japanese pro tour.

The 22-year-old Tohoku Fukushi University senior has won a national junior title, national amateur championship, three collegiate titles and two top amateur honors at the Japan Open.