As a 12-time winner on the PGA Tour, Steve Stricker is used to the season starting at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
Now, as the defending champion, Stricker and his family are set to be back on Maui in a couple weeks.
With a shift in the opening date for the tour schedule in 2013 - six events will take place before Kapalua's slot on the calendar - January's event on Maui will be the last time as the absolute opener.
Defending Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner Steve Stricker says he is looking forward to playing in the event set for Jan. 4-7 at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Stricker said it will be different.
"I don't know really what to expect," Stricker said during a conference call on Tuesday. "We're all entering into this new phase when we're going to start the '14 season in 2013, and Kapalua will come after I think we're going to have six events in the fall that count towards the new season."
Stricker and his family will be on Maui with smiles on their faces.
"We're very excited to come over and get the season started," he said. "It's always fun when you can go over to Hawaii and start the year, and my kids and wife have been talking for the last couple months, counting the days down before we get to come over."
Still, the feeling of being the last opener will be different, he said.
"It'll be interesting. Hopefully it improves the field, although we've got a good field it sounds like this year, but hopefully guys will see where they need to come over and support the event," Stricker said. "But I don't know, yeah, it's a good question. Guys will still have some time off after the last fall event to be home and spend the holidays at home. But yeah, I'm kind of sitting back waiting and seeing how it's all going to play out and how it's going to affect everybody's schedule."
Last season, 11 players who were eligible for the event, six of them ranked in the top 10, skipped the event for various reasons.
Hyundai spokesman Steve Shannon said on the conference call that 14 of the top-30-ranked players in the world are set to be here for the tournament Jan. 4-7, although he didn't name anyone. The field is not official until Dec. 28, the final date players who are eligible can commit to being here.
"Well, every year it's that way that we talk about it, and it's no different from any other event, either if Tiger (Woods) or Phil (Mickelson) or Rory McIlroy, if some of those well known top players in the world, if they don't come, that's the story no matter where it is or what time of the year or when they're on the schedule," Stricker said. "I don't know. I mean, I enjoy coming there. I think if we focus on the guys that do come there, like Mr. Shannon said, there's 14 in the top 30 there in the world, I think that's a good number. Sounds like a strong field to me."
The world schedule, with nearly year-round golf, is a factor, Stricker said.
"I guess if I were to pick anything, it's just the timing of the year that makes it hard for some of these guys," Stricker said. "Our schedule is tough late into the year. I think starting with the John Deere Classic, to finish the year I played 10 out of 13 weeks, and then I didn't play after that, but a lot of guys continued playing into the fall. We just need a time to get away. Everybody does, no matter what they do, and a lot of guys have to take this time to get away."
Shannon said Hyundai is not worried about the shift in the PGA Tour schedule, either. The contract for the event between Kapalua, the tour and Hyundai is in its last year of a three-year deal, but Shannon emphasized that the sponsor loves the event and will be working on an extension soon after this tournament.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com