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Winners and losers in new world of golf

KA LUA, Hawaii - Phil Mickelson will defend his title this week in the Mercedes Championship on a course that used to be part of the exhibition tour. David Duval won four times last year, but he'll only defend in two of those tournaments.

Welcome to the new world of golf.

The 1999 season begins Thursday at Kapalua Plantation, which snagged the Mercedes when La Costa Resort in southern California got the Andersen Consulting Match Play, one of the three World Golf Championship events.

It ends the first week of November in Spain with another WGC event, the Stroke Play Championship that features a limited field and what must seem like unlimited riches to the top players in the world.

Those who once built their entire season around the four majors are now likely to build it around eight big events - the majors, the three WGC tournaments and The Players Championship. And that doesn't include the always lucrative Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup.

''I took a look at my schedule for next year,'' Tiger Woods said as the '98 season came to a close. ''It messes things up a little because some of the spots where I like to take my breaks ... I can't because I need to get ready for the bigger World Golf tournaments. It will be interesting to try to balance it out.''

Here's a look at which tournaments are looking forward to the new year, and which tournaments can expect to lose some shine:


Nissan Open. The best of the West, Los Angeles still got overlooked by top players who took appearance money to play overseas, and by the international stars who waited until March to begin their build-up to the Masters. Now, more players will turn to Nissan to get ready for the Match Play Championship two weeks later.

Players Championship. Same place in the schedule, same high stakes. But the arrival of the WGC events could result in scrutiny over their limited fields and reveal the TPC for what it is - the toughest tournament to win.

''There are players in other majors who don't go there with the goal of winning,'' said Hal Sutton, alluding to amateurs and club pros. ''Everybody at the TPC wants to win. That what makes it the greatest of all.''

Canadian Open. The Toronto media complained last year when only two of the top 10 players on the money list showed up at Glen Abbey. This year it falls two weeks before the Ryder Cup and could become the final tune-up for both teams.

Deposit Guaranty Classic. This used to be opposite the British Open and drew the weakest field of the year. Now it is opposite the Tour Championship. OK, so it won't get the top 30 players. But the Deposit gives players one more chance to finish in the top 40, which means an exemption to the Masters. And depending on the circumstances, it could be one last chance to get into the $5 million field in Spain.


Tucson. Duval got the first of his four victories at Tucson by holding off a late charge by Justin Leonard. Will either of them skip the Match Play Championship for Tucson?

Doral. Greg Norman angered the West Coast tournaments a couple of years ago when he said that the Tour doesn't start until Doral, although he was right. Now, Doral could actually lose players - it would be the third tournament in four weeks for many of them, with the string of Bay Hill, TPC and the Masters to follow. If nothing else, Doral loses its luster as the ''start'' of the season.

FedEx St. Jude Classic. Past champions include Norman, Nick Price, John Cook and Fred Couples. But it goes from being two weeks after the British Open and two weeks before the PGA Championship to the week before the U.S. Open.

Which is a better place to prepare for a major championship - the TPC at Southwind, where the winning score has been at least 15-under since 1989, or Muirfield Village in the Memorial?

Texas Open. Not exactly circled on the calendar to begin with, but this year it's opposite the Ryder Cup. The only attention it will get is if someone is watching college football on ESPN and forgets to change the channel.

Tour Championship. This obviously will suffer because it no longer decides the money title or Vardon Trophy. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem talks about having the season end with two big bangs, but only the Tour Championship makes more than a pop is if Americans decide that money isn't worth a long trip across the Atlantic.