Originally created 01/04/06

Tour's elite put golf in back seat



KAPALUA, Maui - On a dreary morning of clouds and drizzle, all it took was a sudden burst of sun for Kapalua to produce a brilliant welcome to the start of the PGA Tour season. Stretching across the horizon was a massive rainbow, a 180-degree arc of colors that poured into the blue waters of the Pacific.

The rainbow was gone 10 minutes later, and reality returned to the winners-only Mercedes Championships, which has its smallest field ever because four guys didn't show up.

The pot of gold wasn't there.

In this case, that would be Tiger Woods, whose six victories in 2005 included the majors. He decided to skip the tournament for the first time that he was fit to play. He said he needed an offseason after playing five times in five weeks after the PGA Tour's regular season ended in November.

Also absent is PGA champion and four-time winner Phil Mickelson, who chose not to play for the fifth straight year, saying he wanted to be with his family.

Retief Goosen, who once said the best way to start a season was holding a drink with a flower in it, is home with his family in South Africa. Padraig Harrington broke through on the PGA Tour last year with two victories, but he declined his invitation to recharge from an emotional year.

His father was diagnosed with cancer after Harrington won the Honda Classic and died not long after he won the Barclays Classic.

There was a time not long ago when the best in golf were underpaid, especially compared with utility infielders or backup centers. When the Mercedes Championships first came to Kapalua in 1999, David Duval won by nine shots and established himself as the best player in the world. He earned $468,000.

Now, one can only wonder whether the players have become fat and sassy.

Mickelson skipped the Tour Championship and its $6.5 million purse. And five years ago, when a $5 million purse meant something, a dozen Americans didn't go to Spain for a World Golf Championship.

"Obviously, money is not an issue," Mark Calcavecchia said. "They don't need the money, which is nice to be in that position. But it's just golf, you know? It's not a marathon. ... Take next month off."

Bart Bryant had knee surgery two days after winning the Tour Championship, and they cleaned out more cartilage than he expected. The recovery took a little longer, and Bryant could have used two extra weeks to get ready.

"But how can you not be here?" he said with a big smile.