LOS ANGELES: In the absence of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, the game's lesser lights have a chance to make an impact this week at the PGA Tour's season-opening Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.
World number two Vijay Singh, who faded to fifth in last year's tournament after leading for the first three days, is the only member of the world's top five in the elite field at the Kapalua Resort.
Top-ranked Woods, champion in 1997 and 2000, has decided to skip his usual early-season event to spend more time at home after playing a full schedule last year.
“I just need some time away from the game,” the US Masters and British Open champion said on his official website.
“As much as I enjoy going to Kapalua Resort, it's been a long season and I have played a lot of golf. I need a break to recharge my batteries, let my body heal and hang out with family and friends.”
Woods, who celebrated his 30th birthday three days ago, will launch his 2006 campaign at the Buick Invitational in La Jolla, California later this month.
US PGA champion Mickelson, twice a winner of the Mercedes Championships when it was staged at La Costa Country Club in Carlsbad, California, has opted to miss this week's event for the fourth time in five years.
In 2004, the San Diego resident was not eligible to play in the tournament that brings together all the winners from the previous PGA Tour season.
South African Els, champion at Kapalua's Plantation Course in 2003 with a record tournament aggregate of 261 and runner-up to Woods there in 2000, is another notable absentee this week, along with compatriot Retief Goosen, the world number four. – Reuters