Ames launches PGA Tour season in Hawaii with birdie

Thu Jan 3, 2008 4:42pm EST
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KAPALUA, Hawaii (Reuters) - Canadian Stephen Ames launched the 2008 PGA Tour in birdie style on Thursday after hitting the opening drive at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Ames, who booked his place in the elite field of 31 by winning the 2007 Tour's season-ending Disney Classic, split the fairway off the tee on the 520-yard, par-four first hole.

After his second shot at Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course ended up 28 feet from the flag, he calmly rolled in the birdie putt.

Ames, a three-times winner on the PGA Tour, had been introduced on the first tee by the tournament's honorary starter, former New York Yankees baseball manager Joe Torre.

A nine-times All-Star as a player who led the Yankees to four world championships, Torre succeeded Grady Little as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers two months ago.

"I'm a little nervous here being on the tee because you don't realize how many shots it takes me to get where you're going to hit your third shot," Kapalua property owner Torre told Ames with a smile.

The elite Mercedes-Benz Championship, which brings together the title-holders from the previous PGA Tour season, is being played at the Kapalua Resort for 10th year in a row.

Notable absentees this week include world number one Tiger Woods, who decided to skip the event to spend more time at home with his family, and second-ranked Phil Mickelson.

Fiji's former world number one Vijay Singh defends the title he clinched by two shots last year.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Justin Palmer)

<p>Stephen Ames tees off on the first hole during the Pro-Am round of the Mercedes-Benz Championship golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii, January 2, 2008. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry</p>