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Woods, Duval Skipping Sony Open

GORDON SAKAMOTOJanuary 13, 2000

HONOLULU (AP) _ That sigh of relief you heard came from the 144 golfers who will tee it up at the Sony Open.

That’s because the world’s best player, Tiger Woods, is kicking back for a few days at his Florida home, and No. 2 David Duval is off on a skiing outing.

With those two skipping the PGA Tour’s first full-field tournament of the season, the event is considered wide open. But 20 of the 30 players who participated in the Mercedes Championships for 1999 winners last week planned to tee it up at the Waialae Country Club today.

Among the favorites will be defending champion Jeff Sluman and Ernie Els, who lost a dramatic playoff to Woods at the Mercedes.

``I hope I do a little better later this week,″ said Sluman, who finished 14th at the Mercedes. ``I feel pretty good about my game right now. I played fairly well last week and look forward to coming out here and seeing how I do.″

Sluman said winning the inaugural Sony was a confidence-builder for the 1999 season. He went on to finish 17th on the money list with $1.6 million. He made the cut in 26 of 31 events and finished in the top 10 six times.

Traveling to this side of the Pacific Ocean this early in the year is a new experience for Els, but he’s already feeling good about his game.

``I’m looking forward to playing to see how it goes,″ he said of the Sony. ``I thought I hit the ball from tee to green better than Tiger did last week, but I just missed a couple of putts I should have made.

``Maybe they’ll fall this week.″

Els’ itinerary to get to Hawaii included traveling through 12 time zones. After the Sony, he’ll turn right around and head home before rejoining the PGA Tour at the Nissan Open in Los Angeles.

``I arrived here last year, sounds like a long time ago doesn’t it?″ he said jokingly shortly after arriving for the Mercedes.

``I’m on my way around the world at the moment. This is just a halfway stop. Flying from South Africa to the West Coast, you can’t believe how far it is if you haven’t done it.″

Among those anxious to get started is Peter Jacobsen.

``We’ve all got to get ourselves in shape over here ad try to challenge him (Woods),″ Jacobsen said. ``It’s good he’s not playing this week, so he gives everybody a chance.″

Jacobsen warmed up for the 72-hole event by winning the Johnny Bellinger Shoot-Out, a prelude to the tournament.

``I’m looking forward to going out and seeing how I do,″ he said. ``Winning this event would give me some confidence that my game is in good shape.

``We’ll just have to tee it up and see how it goes.″

The Sony will showcase Gary Nicklaus, 30-year-old son of golfing great Jack Nicklaus. He received a sponsor’s exemption for the tournament.

``I’m excited,″ Nicklaus said. ``Now I get to see what I can do.″

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