Englishman Luke Donald and Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal and defending champion Sergio Garcia, carry European hopes in the PGA Tour’s opening 2003 event on Thursday.
The Mercedes Championship traditionally pitches the previous year’s tournament winners together in Hawaii in the first of 48 official Tour events.
Played over 72 spectacular holes at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, this year will again have the cream of golf, with one exception. World No.1 Tiger Woods, crowned the US Tour’s player of the year last week, is still recovering from knee surgery and won’t be competing.
For Donald, the 24-year-old from High Wycombe, who made his mark as America’s top college player before qualifying on the pro Tour and claiming his first victory at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic in the Autumn, it’s a chance to test himself quickly against the world’s elite.
He has been in the UK over the Christmas and New Year break, partying with the likes of Simon Dyson and Nick Dougherty and playing social winter golf with his brother-in-law in Bristol, but now aims show his rocket-like elevation was no fluke.
His win in Madison, Mississippi was over a curtailed 54 holes after rain wrecked the final day, but a win is a win and not only earned him a two year exemption but the keys to a new sports car and a luxury flat in Chicago, where he spent his college career studying art.
He recently told the Daily Mirror: "I believe America is the best place to develop as a golfer. It took some of the limelight away from me. I’m not as well known as Justin Rose at home and don’t have as much of a presence but that will come, especially if my position on the moneylist becomes the criteria for Ryder Cup selection , which is one of my goals."
For Olazabal, winner of the Buick Invitational last February, and Garcia, this week’s tournament provides an early opportunity to give the Europeans a flying start and re-confirm the continent’s supremacy in the Ryder Cup.
Biggest challengers will be Open Champion Ernie Els, US PGA winner Rich Beem, Retief Goosen, Chris Di Marco and former winner Jim Furyk.
Luke in the limelight