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2002 Season starts in earnest

Professional men's tournament golf is back up and running on a global basis after a short New Year's break with key events in New Zealand, Hawaii and South Africa this week.

Tiger Woods is the main attraction in the New Zealand Open at Paraparaumu Beach, American Brad Faxon will be defending the Sony Open at Honolulu's Waialae Country Club and Zimbabwe's Mark McNulty makes his title defence in the South African Open at Durban Country Club.

All three events, which start on Thursday, carry significant points for the official world rankings and have been able to attract quality fields.

New Zealander David Smail defends his title at this week's New Zealand Open, the third event on the 2002 Australasian Tour schedule, but most eyes will be on world number one Woods, who visits the country for the first time.

Woods has decided to play in the event as a tribute to his New Zealand-born caddie Steve Williams, despite a letter containing cyanide which was sent to the U.S. embassy in Wellington last month threatening to disrupt the tournament.

New Zealand police have substantially increased security for the event, which has attracted 325 media personnel and television coverage that will be beamed to 158 million homes worldwide, organisers have said.

"This is the most watched New Zealand Open ever, and it gives a unique opportunity to showcase our country," tournament managing director David Pool has said in a statement.

"The fact that we have Tiger Woods playing in a bona fide golf tournament gives added credibility and interest in this event."

Some of the biggest names in Australasian golf will be taking on the world number one, with the likes of 2000 winner Michael Campbell, Australian Craig Parry, 1995 title-holder Lucas Parsons and twice champion Greg Turner all set to play.

In Hawaii, the $4 million Sony Open is the second U.S. Tour event of the year, following the Mercedes Championships which finished in Kapalua at the weekend.

Sunday's winner, Sergio Garcia of Spain, who clinched the title after beating David Toms in a playoff, will be aiming to post back-to-back U.S. Tour victories as he bids to maintain his current run of form.

Toms, last year's U.S. PGA champion, is also in the field, as is world number seven Davis Love III and former Sony winners Jim Furyk, Jeff Sluman, John Huston and John Cook.

In Durban, the Sunshine Tour's co-sanctioned South African Open is the first European Tour event of the calendar year, but the third stop on the 2002 European schedule, after last year's Asian Open and Hong Kong Open.

Defending champion McNulty, who won last season's Southern African Tour order of merit for a record eighth time, will have a tough task on his hands at the coastal Durban Country Club as he tries to win his second S.A. Open title.

Twice U.S. Open winner Ernie Els, reigning U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and 1999 British Open champion Paul Lawrie are the leading contenders in the draw.

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