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Vijay Singh set for Mercedes Championship defence

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising for a golf tournament sponsored by a legendary German automaker, but can anyone remember the last American to win the Mercedes-Benz Championship?

That would be Jim Furyk, after sinking a 23-foot birdie putt on the final hole in 2001 to beat South African Rory Sabbatini, who missed a 3-footer that would have forced a playoff.

Both will be back at Kapalua next week — Sabbatini has actually been here nearly two weeks already — for the 2008 Mercedes-Benz Championship at the Plantation Course. Furyk, who owns a house on the course, won the Canadian Open this year and Sabbatini the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.

They are among the 32 tournament champions from this year who will play in the PGA Tour's season-opening event, which tees off next Thursday on Maui. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson — the top two in the World Golf Ranking — and Padraig Harrington, No. 8 with a British Open championship bullet, declined invitations.

Vijay Singh, ranked 10th and a property owner on the Big Island, will defend his Mercedes championship. He won his 30th PGA Tour title in January and finished among the top five on the money list for the 10th consecutive year.

He has broken par at Kapalua 27 of the last 32 rounds, but comes here in the midst of a swing change brought on by a mid-season slump that extended to the majors. He also has a new trainer. "Obviously I was very disappointed in the way I played," Singh said of last season. "Although I had two wins, I was really very discouraged."

Moanalua High School junior Tadd Fujikawa will play in Wednesday's Pro-Am. Also expected are Samuel L. Jackson, Dennis Hopper, George Lopez, Alice Cooper, Craig T. Nelson and Kyle MacLachlan.

Michael Jones was named Kapalua Resort's new director of golf this month. He was formerly the head pro at Cantigny Golf, a 27-hole facility in Wheaton, Ill. He won the 2004 Illinois Section Junior Golf Leader Award.

The tour's opening day will feature a new Hawaiian celebration. The Kings Guard Drill Team from Honolulu will perform before the tour's first drive of 2008 and Clifford Nae'ole, Kapalua's Hawaiian cultural advisor, will give a traditional blessing. Jake Shimabukuro follows with the national anthem on ukulele. Former Yankees and current Dodgers manager Joe Torre, who owns property at Kapalua, will announce the first pairing of Stephen Ames and Daniel Chopra.

Kapalua's Bay Course will host the inaugural Kapalua LPGA Classic in October.


December 28, 2007

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