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Four new faces at Grand Slam tournament

PGA champion Shaun Micheel is just happy to be a part of the Grand Slam of Golf, a tournament so exclusive that five-time defending champion Tiger Woods didn't qualify.

``This is probably the only event a defending champion doesn't get to return,'' Micheel said Thursday as he prepared for this weekend's $1 million event. ``This is one of the big perks of winning a major. It's still a golf tournament, but I'm here to have a good time.''

For the first time in the Grand Slam's 21-year history, four first-time major winners will face off in the 36-hole tournament that begins Friday.

Micheel is joined by Masters champion Mike Weir, U.S. Open winner Jim Furyk and British Open champion Ben Curtis.

It took Weir, Furyk and Micheel a few years to earn a spot in the event at the lush, oceanside 7,014 yard-Poipu Bay Golf Course on the island of Kauai. Curtis, however, qualified on his first attempt.

Curtis, at 26 the youngest participant in the field, was ranked 396th in the world when he won the British Open and became the first golfer to win a major in his first attempt since Francis Ouimet accomplished the feat at the 1913 U.S. Open.

Curtis said his life and golfing career haven't been the same since winning at Royal St. George's.

Last year at this time, Curtis said he was relaxing at his home in Ohio, wondering what events he could play in. Now, he's looking forward to beginning the season on Maui next month at the Mercedes Championships.

``I'm going to play a lot more at the beginning of the year because I can play in all the events I want, where as last year, I just played in the events I could get into,'' he said.

Although it's Furyk's first time playing on Kauai, the part-time Maui resident has a small advantage. He has earned more than $1.8 million in 17 events in Hawaii. He won the 1996 Hawaiian Open and the Mercedes Championships in 2001.

Furyk said the key in this event will be keeping the ball down in the strong trade winds that whip through Poipu.

``I don't know if I have an advantage, but I'm very comfortable here in Hawaii,'' he said.

Of the foursome, Furyk earned the most money on Tour this year with $5,182,865. He was fourth on the money list behind Vijay Singh, Woods and Davis Love III.

All four players will go home richer. The Grand Slam winner will earn $400,000, while the fourth-place finisher will get $150,000.

Last year, Woods earned his fifth straight Grand Slam title, finishing with a tournament-record 11-under 61 for a record 17-under 127 total, good for a 14-stroke victory over Love and Justin Leonard. Rich Beem finished fourth.

Micheel said Woods, who got engaged last week, is probably not pleased about missing the Grand Slam for the first time since 1996.

``Any time he has a chance to win a major championship and he doesn't, I'm sure he's disappointed,'' Micheel said. ``At the same time, he's got a lot going on in his life right now. Maybe he's fine with having a break.''

Weir, a Canadian who posted three top-10 performances in the year's four majors, is the first lefty to play in the Grand Slam. His trip to Kauai hasn't been all work. He has gone fishing and surfing.

Micheel attended his sister's wedding after Thursday's pro-am and, earlier in the week, went off-roading in dune buggies.

``I was caked head to toe in mud,'' he said. ``It was the most fun I had in a long time.''

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