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Big time golf starts this week in Hawaii

DESPITE seven events already having been played on the wraparound US season, the real golf starts this week in Hawaii.

THE season might be seven events old already but it's the year's first event in Hawaii this week that kicks off the big time golf for 2016.

A world class venue hosting a world class field makes the annual Tournament of Champions one of the best spectacles all year and the players gathered at Kapalua in 2016 make up one of the strongest fields of the past decade.

Featuring the top two players in the world and six of the top 10, this week's event is restricted to winners from the previous year's PGA Tour and could well prove a harbinger of things to come in 2016.

The rivalry between Jordan Spieth and Jason Day for World Number One status will be rekindled after a battle royal in the last half of 2015 but the storylines go much deeper than just the top two players in the game.

Established players like Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and defending champion Patrick Reed have plenty to prove this week, and this year, as do young guns such as Justin Thomas, Emiliano Grillo and Brooks Kopeka.

In many ways this week is a snapshot of the current state of the professional game where the talent pool has never been so deep and it's never been so difficult for a player to separate themselves from the rest.

Having said that Spieth and Day, along with Rory McIlroy, have formed a 'Big Three' at the top of the world rankings and while the Irishman has elected not to play this week expect the other two to put on a show.

Spieth tees up at Kapalua for just the second time but has good history with the course where he finished runner-up on debut in 2014.

Having taken the lead into the final round Spieth was pipped by a single shot as a fast-finishing Zach Johnson shot the equal best round of the day to take the title.

In his pre-tournament press conference, Spieth said he felt he could have won that year and was keen to make amends in 2016.

“I came runner-up to Zach Johnson two years ago, had a chance coming down the stretch, and I'd like to kind of avenge that,” Spieth said.

“I still remember two of the holes, 14 and 16. I had pretty make-able birdie putts that would have got me back to tied for the lead and I could have birdied for the tie, eagled for the win, instead of having to eagle for the tie.

“So I'd like to kind of make up for that.”

GW: SPIETH IN AUSTRALIA

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Day, too, has some impressive history at Kapalua after posting a course record equalling 11-under 62 in the final round last year to miss out on a playoff by a shot.

It was the beginning of a breakout season in 2015 and he comes to Hawaii this time around a more confident and accomplished player - though is perhaps suffering from a lack of tournament play.

Day hasn't played competitively anywhere in the world since the Presidents Cup last October and hasn't teed up in a four round stroke event since the Tour Championship in September.

However, with Day and Spieth accounting for 10 victories between them last year the job is made a little easier this week by virtue of the field being smaller than normal, a fact Spieth seemed to delight in pointing out.

“Last year I didn't start until Phoenix, and it was tough to watch my peers play this tournament without being able to be here when I felt coming off the end of 2014, I felt so strong,” Spieth said.

“I felt like I kind of belonged in this tournament, but it's just the criteria.

“Very pleased after that first win (in 2015) to know I was coming back, and then from there I guess me and Jason helped knock down the field a little bit last season, the field for this event.”

While much of the focus will be on the top two there are no shortage of contenders this week including the man just on the outside of the 'Big Three', Rickie Fowler.

The young American's brilliance in winning The Players Championship last year was undeniable, but he knows he has to take an extra step to be included in the discussion with his three 20-something peers.

“I mean, I feel like to be in the same conversation I need to get a major and get that on the resumé to at least have some sort of credentials to be there,” Fowler said this week.

“I know with my finishes in '14 and to get the wins last year, finally get myself to be one of the top 10 now, I'm sixth in the world, so it was a successful couple of years.

“But I'm just looking forward to working on being the best that I can be. The ultimate goal is to be the best player in the world. I obviously have some pretty tough competition out there.”

Day is one of two Australians in the field, fellow Queenslander Steven Bowditch also earning a start courtesy of his win at the Byron Nelson Championship in Texas in May.

Only four players eligible to tee up this week have not taken their place in the field. Jim Furyk continues to suffer with a wrist injury while McIlroy recently had laser eye surgery.

Justin Rose and Shane Lowry simply elected not to put the tournament on their schedule.

GW player profile: steven bowditch

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