KAPALUA, Hawaii: American Rickie Fowler will strike the first ball as the 2013 PGA Tour season kicks off in Hawaii Friday with 30 players in the field for the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Last year’s winner Steve Stricker is back and will have some strong competition to beat in his quest to repeat his victory.
Stricker, who is the only previous winner in the abbreviated field, posted a pair of 69s in the final two rounds last year, defeating Martin Laird by two strokes.
Stricker’s worst finish in his last four times at Kapalua was a tie for 10th three years ago.
Reigning major champions Bubba Watson (Masters) and Webb Simpson (US Open) are also contenders.
Watson, who has played here the last two years, carded his best finish last year when he tied for 18th.
“I’m excited about it,” Watson said. “A great time for the family, hanging out with friends and seeing the scenery and playing the golf course is a challenge but it’s a fun time to start off the year in Maui.”
Watson said his goals this year are to get back to the winner’s circle and make the Presidents Cup team.
“For me it’s about winning a golf tournament,” Watson said. “And the second thing is making the team event. In the US we have a team event every year. This year it’s the Presidents Cup, so that would be the second goal.
“I got my tour card for five years now. That would have been number three, but I’m good for five years.”
Watson also hopes to improve on his mental preparation as he revealed that he has been hospitalized three times during his career for panic attacks.
“I’ve had a lot of panic attacks off the golf course,” Watson said. “I actually went to the hospital three times thinking I was having something wrong with my heart …”
Watson said doctors are stumped but have suggested medication that he refuses to take.
“I’ve done everything,” he said. “I’ve done EKGs, we’ve done tests, all kind of things … I need medicine that calms me down.”
Simpson tied for third place in his first appearance at Kapalua last year.
Players Champion Matt Kuchar tied for sixth in 2011, while Tour Championship winner Brandt Snedeker is back after not playing the tournament last year.
The Kapalua event begins a shortened PGA season after organizers decided to switch to a 2013-14 season next year. The former Fall Series is now the beginning of the new season, resulting in seven fewer tournaments in 2013.
Hunter Mahan said the new so-called wrap-around season has added to the work load and created some uncertainty among the players.
“With golf now, it’s year-long,” Mahan said. “The season doesn’t end in September. I mean, it doesn’t really ever end. It just keeps kind of looping over and over and over again.”
Mahan will play in a group that includes fellow American Zach Johnson in the Friday to Monday event. Fowler is partnered with Jason Dufner.
The PGA Tour stays in Hawaii next week for the Sony Open, where Johnson Wagner captured the title by two strokes last year.