Singh should take watered-down field

So much for the offseason. We're only in Week 1 of the 2006 PGA Tour schedule and already there are plenty of stories ringing in the new year, from reports about the PGA Tour's new billion-dollar television deal for 2007 and beyond to the no-shows at this week's Mercedes Championships -- notably Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen. Still, there's something about golf in prime time and the swaying palm trees of the revamped par-73 Plantation Course at Kapalua.

Who's hot
With Vijay Singh the only top-five player in the world in the field, it's hard not to like his chances, even if he had one of the worst years of putting in his career in '05. Of course, Singh has never been a great putter, even in '04, when he won nine tournaments and wrestled the money title and Player of the Year honors away from Tiger (who isn't teeing it up until the Buick Invitational in La Jolla at the end of month, by the way).

At last year's Mercedes, Singh was the 36-hole leader before being undone by a final-round 74 to finish in a tie for fifth. The year before, he finished second. In '03, he tied for fourth. Check out the names of past champions at the Mercedes: Els, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk, Tiger (twice), David Duval, Mickelson (twice). The point? Not only is Vijay's name missing from that list, but that's a who's who of modern superstars.

You also have to throw in the fact there are a number of Mercedes "rookies" this year, including Jason Gore, Sean O'Hair, Michael Campbell, Geoff Ogilvy, Carl Pettersson and Jason Bohn.

One other player to watch: Stuart Appleby, who last year became the first back-to-back champion since Lanny Wadkins in 1983. The last (and only) player to win the Mercedes three straight years? Gene Littler in 1957.

Who's not
Mercedes Championships tournament director Nancy Cross can't be feeling too good about all the no-shows (see her comments in Golf World about this year's field). And part of me wonders if this is a similar scenario awaiting a lot of tournament directors once the new PGA Tour schedule kicks in next year. With so many players making so much money, there might not be a need, or desire, for the game's superstars to play in tournaments like the Mercedes, or other events outside the major championships, the World Golf Championship events and a handful of other select stops like The Players Championship and Memorial.

As for those who are teeing it up this week, it would be a little unfair to categorize anyone as not hot since it's the first week of the season. But Tim Petrovic hasn't exactly torn it up since winning the Zurich Classic in a playoff in May 2004. In his 18 starts since then, he's missed nine cuts. Don't bet any money on Brad Faxon, either. As great a putter as Faxon is, he only began hitting full shots on Dec. 30 following offseason knee surgery.

Item that may only interest me
From colleague Dave Shedloski, there is this interesting nugget: Four of the last five winners of the Mercedes Championships failed to win another tournament the rest of the year.

That can't be good for what I'm about to say …

Pick to win
By all accounts, Singh had a good year in 2005, with four wins and a world ranking of No. 2. But it could have been better -- a lot better -- if he had made a few more meaningful putts (see: the PGA Championship). He won't let this one get away, though. Expect the big Fijian to take advantage of a watered-down field and blow everyone out of the water and win the first of this year's 48 tournaments.