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Golf: Woods, Singh, Els Kick Off PGA Tour in Hawaii


The 2005 U.S. PGA Tour kicks off this week with the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii. The season opens with Vijay Singh atop the rankings, but with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, and others looking to take the top slot from the Fijian.

Vijay Singh heads into this week's tournament highly confident of winning. And his confidence is well founded - the Fijian won nine tournaments and $10 million in 2004. In his last eight starts, Singh has six wins and a second place finish and took the number one ranking from Tiger Woods. Woods finished a frustrating 2004 with a couple of wins - at the Target World Challenge and a tournament in Japan

The three-time Masters champion has been working on his swing with coach Hank Haney. Tiger says that the end of 2004 proves his hard work is beginning to bear fruit.

"I have worked harder than I have worked in a long time to try and learn something new," he said. "I have never done this before. And it is a new concept so I had to put in my time, I had to log in the hours. You know I had to punch in the clock. So over the past couple of months I have started to get some really positive results."

Woods also finished second behind South Africa's Retief Goosen in the Tour Championship in November of 2004. The South African won the U.S. Open for the second time in 2004, and won three other events including the Tour Championship.

Goosen says that after the holiday break, his game is not as sharp as it was when he won the Open at Shinnecock Hills last year, but he is looking forward to playing on the Plantation course in Kapalua, Hawaii.

"It's [my game is] a bit raw at the moment, but most of the players here are a bit raw at the moment after the holiday," he said. "But I enjoy the course. It is a course that really all depends on what the wind does around it, how it plays. But it is a wonderful place to be it still feels like a holiday."

While Goosen seems relaxed headed into the season, his countryman Ernie Els is looking to improve on 2004's results. The man known as "The Big Easy" because of his easy swing finished second at two major tournaments - the Masters and the British Open - and finished tied for ninth at the U.S. Open and in a tie for fourth at the PGA. Els says that while most golfers would be satisfied with his results last year, he is not.

"I think a lot of guys would give anything to have been in the situation I was in - you know to have top tens in every major and to lose by one shot in three of them," he said. "I am pretty hard on myself and maybe that's sometimes a negative. But all in all I think it is the best positive that I have, that I can reflect, sit down and beat myself up a little bit and see where I have to get better. And go from there."

While Els is looking to improve on last season, British Open champion Todd Hamilton of the United States would be happy with a repeat of 2004. As a rookie on the PGA Tour, Hamilton won the Honda Classic, the British Open, and earned more than $3 million. Hamilton says that his goal for 2005 is to continue improving.

"It is going to be hard to top, but I hope I can improve a little bit as far as getting more consistent and hopefully get up in the lead or get in that position again," he said. "And let my experience take over and hopefully that stuff [winning] can happen again."

Some of the young guns of golf could also challenge the top players this year, including Spain's Sergio Garcia, who took two U.S. PGA tournaments in 2004. Australian Adam Scott could also cause some upsets on this year's PGA Tour after winning twice and finishing in the top 10 seven times in 2004.

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