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New Year's Repetition It's 2004 on the Tour, but Week 1 sure looked a lot like 2003

Jan. 19, 2004
Jan. 19, 2004

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Jan. 19, 2004

New Year's Repetition It's 2004 on the Tour, but Week 1 sure looked a lot like 2003

The calendar may have flipped, but with the possible exception of
Davis Love III's new facial hair, not much has changed on the PGA
Tour. It makes sense that in a sport in which the season never
actually ends, last week's season-opening Mercedes Championships
looked and felt an awful lot like 2003.

This is an article from the Jan. 19, 2004 issue

Stuart Appleby, the 32-year-old Aussie, continued the strong play
that has seen him ring up two wins and a pair of seconds in his
last six events, and jump to 11th in the World Ranking. At the
same time, Vijay Singh renewed his dogged quest to topple Tiger.
Since last summer's British Open, Singh, who finished a shot
behind Appleby, has finished in the top 10 in 12 of 13 starts and
has been among the top five in his last six events.

As for Tiger, he too had the familiar look of '03, when it seemed
as if he was either winning (five times) or lingering seven shots
off the lead because his driving and putting weren't sharp.

The truth is that for all three of these guys, the Mercedes was
little more than an extension of last year. Said Appleby, "After
the Presidents Cup I had two weeks off, followed by a tournament,
the Australian Open, followed by another week off, a week of
practice and [then came] here. There wasn't like a big cross
through December where there was no golf."

The same is true of Singh, who's known as the Tour's hardest
worker. "When I finished last year, I was swinging the club
well," he says. "I only took two weeks off. So you can't go from
swinging the club well for six months to totally losing it. I
kept practicing. You know, I took three, four days off. I kept
going to the range, kept in touch with the swing."

Tiger too has stayed active, playing first in November's
Presidents Cup, then at his own event, the Target World
Challenge, in mid-December, before going to Hawaii. Typically,
Woods shows up at the Mercedes, a no-cut event for the 30 or so
winners from the previous season, to take his shot at the title
and collect his check before taking some time off. As he said
after his final-round 71, "My off-season starts now. You won't
see me for a while." The question is, how long will it be before
we see him again? If he saw his shadow in Kapalua, it might be
five weeks (until the Feb. 9-15 Buick Invitational). If not, it
could be four (the Feb. 2-8 Pebble Beach Pro-Am).

When Woods does reemerge, he's certain to be toting the new Nike
driver and ball he used last week. With them in his bag, he added
about 10 yards to his drives and led the tournament with a
311.1-yard average. After finishing 11th in driving average last
year (299.5 yards) and grumbling about hot clubs, it must have
come as a relief to the world's No. 1-ranked player to once again
see his ball fly past those of lesser mortals. That the Tour
rolled out its voluntary driver testing this week is (we think) a
coincidence.

What's sure to be less pleasing to Tiger is the visible reduction
in the intimidation he wields over his peers. Earlier in the week
Ernie Els openly discussed how everyone on Tour has gotten better
and moved closer to Tiger. While a win would have made a bigger
statement, Singh, last year's top money winner, threw down the
gauntlet anew with his strong second. Meanwhile, the emergence of
guys like Appleby, who have long had potential but only now seem
free to explore it, should make for an interesting new season. Or
a spicy continuation of the last one, however you want to look at
it.

COLOR PHOTO: FRED VUICH (APPLEBY) LAST LICKS Appleby's five-iron on 18 missed right, but a chip and a putt sealed it.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (TIGER)COLOR PHOTO: IAN MCKELL/RETNA LTD. (REECE)COLOR PHOTO: SI PICTURE COLLECTION (TROPHY)COLOR PHOTO: HOWARD SOCHUREK/TIME LIFE PICTURES/GETTY IMAGES (CANNON)COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK (WIE)

TRUST ME

His standoff with Tiger at the Presidents Cup and last week's
comments about "closing the gap" show that Ernie Els has joined
Vijay Singh as a player who's no longer afraid of the big bad
Woods.

THE NEW MATH A 14-year-old plays in a PGA Tour event

TIGER / GABBY REECE + U.S. WOMEN'S PUBLIC LINKS WIN +
300-YARD DRIVES = MICHELLE WIE