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KAPALUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Returning to the Hawaiian island of Maui for the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions is a double-edged sword for Zach Johnson, whose young family now expect him to be a perennial qualifier for the event.
Johnson clinched last year's title by one shot over fellow American Jordan Spieth and will be competing in the winners-only field at Kapalua Resort for the eighth time, having missed out on qualification only once since 2007.
The elite $5.7 million event this week brings together 34 winners from the previous season and Johnson, an 11-times champion on the PGA Tour, has given his children the impression that he punches his ticket to Maui virtually at will.
"My (two) boys, granted they're young, they kind of expect it," a smiling Johnson told reporters while preparing for Friday's opening round on the Plantation Course.
"That's a problem. My eight-year-old has celebrated six birthdays here in Maui. That's also a problem, but a good problem.
"It's great to be back in Maui. This is a pretty special place to start, and it's one that certainly I and my family relish because it's not easy getting back here."
Johnson triumphed at Kapalua last year after closing with a seven-under-par 66, iron-clad confirmation that he has adjusted well to a hilly layout that measures 7,452 yards.
"I used to think this golf course wasn't in my favour but the more and more I play it, the better I feel like it is suited to me," said the 38-year-old American. "I've grown to at least enjoy it, for sure."
South African Tim Clark, like Johnson one of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour where power is a prized commodity, has also had to adapt to Kapalua's special requirements.
"My first reaction was, 'Do we get a cart for the week?'" Clark recalled of his Tournament of Champions debut in 2011 when he tied for 17th. "It's certainly an interesting golf course.
"On a personal level, I'd like to see it a little bit narrower ... but I like the grasses we'll be playing on and I like playing in the wind, so I look forward to the week."
Long established as the opening event on the PGA Tour, this week's edition is the eighth in the 'wrap-around' season that was first introduced for 2013-14. Masters champion Bubba Watson, the American world number four, heads the field.
Editing by Frank Pingue