|1998 Mercedes Championship Preview|
For the 30th and last time the La Costa Resort & Spa will open the PGA TOUR season. La Costa has hosted this tournament for the last 29 of the 46 years of its existence. Next year it will move to Hawaii, while La Costa will host the World Match Play Championship (February 24-28). This year the purse has been increased to 1.7 million dollars, with the winner taking home $306,000 and a Mercedes Benz SL500.
The field is composed of players who were winners of PGA TOUR sanctioned tournaments in 1997. There are 31 qualifiers, 15 of which also qualified for last year's edition of this event. There are only 6 first-time qualifiers for the Mercedes Championships (Duval, Appleby, Toms, Cink, Hjertstedt, and Nobilo), so this year the field includes quite a few players with winning experience. In addition, of the 31 players, 11 won more than once in 1997. Tiger Woods heads this list of multiple winners with 4 first-place finishings (Mercedes, The Masters, Byron Nelson Classic, Western Open), followed by David Duval (3), while 9 players won twice.
Former winners of this tournament included in this year field are Steve Jones (1989), Steve Elkington (1992 and 1995), Davis Love III (1993), Phil Mickelson (1994), Mark O'Meara (1996), and the defending champion Tiger Woods. The only players to successfully defend their title at La Costa were Tom Watson (1979, 1980) and Lanny Wadkins (1982, 1983). The oldest player in the field is Greg Norman (42, 11 months), with 8 other players in the 40+ "flight": Faldo, Price, O'Meara, Cook, Sluman, Blackmar, Hoch, and Roberts). The youngest player in this week's field is Tiger Woods (22), with 9 players in the Under-30 "flight" (Appleby, Cink, Duval, Els, Herron, Hjertstedt, Leonard, Mickelson, and Stankowski.
The course is an hybrid of holes from the North and South courses. The front nine is composed of holes 1-3, and 13-18 of the North course, and the back nine includes holes 10-18 of the South course. The overall length is 7022 yards. It's mostly a tree-lined course, with water in five of the holes. The last three holes provide for dramatic finishes. The 16th and 18th holes are par-4 of 423 and 421 yards, respectively. They "sandwich" the 17th hole, a narrow par-5 of 569 yards. The difficulty is that all three play into the prevailing strong afternoon sea breeze. The 17th hole has water all along its right side, and high rough on the left. The key to this hole is the placement of the second shot. Last year, on the third round, Tiger Woods hit a 3-wood second shot that carry 255 yards setting up a two-putt birdie. He birdied the last 4 holes that day, tieing Tom Lehman at the top of the leaderboard. Woods then went on to win in a playoff after the fourth round was cancelled due to unplayable conditions.
The La Costa Resort and Spa is located in Carlsbad, about 30 miles north of San Diego, California.