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He's enjoying mingling with the fans and relaxing in Bermuda, Padraig Harrington says, but that doesn't mean he won't be trying hard to come out on top. (Photo: The PGA of America)
He's enjoying mingling with the fans and relaxing in Bermuda, Padraig Harrington says, but that doesn't mean he won't be trying hard to come out on top. (Photo: The PGA of America)

Change in venue, but not view, at PGA Grand Slam

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The PGA Grand Slam of Golf has a new home, but some things never change. The venue is an island paradise, the perks are fantastic, the field is amazing. And, oh yes, each of the major champions really wants to win, especially with the purse raised this year.

TUCKER'S TOWN, Bermuda (AP) -- The major champions usually meet on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, and that much remains true.

It's everything else about this two-day exhibition that seems to have changed.

For starters, the Grand Slam has moved from Poipu Bay in Hawaii to the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda, a 20-square mile speck of land in the middle of the Atlantic with turquoise water, pink sand and a soft surf. There is a change in venue, but not necessarily the views.

"It seems like a very great place to take some vacations," U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera said.

Tiger Woods decided to take his holiday away from the golf course, and that might be the biggest change of all. The Grand Slam gets under way on Tuesday with three major champions and one major alternate after Woods, the reigning PGA Champion, decided to skip this event for the first time that he has been eligible.

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"I haven't spent as much time at home as I would have liked," Woods said at THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola, which he won for his fourth victory in five starts that made him the first FedExCup champion.

"We're disappointed Tiger won't be with us, but we're proud of our champions we have here," said PGA President Brian Whitcomb. "Tiger has always supported golf and the PGA of America. I got a classy letter from him stating that he's mentally exhausted and just needs a break. I respect that."

That left a four-man field at the Mid Ocean Club of Cabrera, Masters champion Zach Johnson, British Open champion Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk, the former major champion who led a points-based alternate list.

Furyk was in South Korea over the weekend and not expected to arrive until Monday night. Cabrera lost in the final of the HSBC World Match Play Championship in England and arrived at 2:00 a.m. Monday, still bleary-eyed when he showed up at the course.

There was plenty of star power in the pro-am, although not all of it from the major champions.

Two of the most famous residents of Bermuda, actor Michael Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, drew a large gallery, about 200 people who soaked in the sun and an endless horizon of ocean. They played the final six holes with Harrington, who got so much attention that his orange pen was running dry late in the afternoon from signing so many autographs.

All of them were thrilled to be in Bermuda, if not for the hospitality than the reminder of what it took to get here.

Perhaps none were as wide-eyed as Johnson, and it didn't take long for him to realize he wasn't in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and this was not a normal golf outing. Each player receives a personal escort to his room, and Johnson was shocked when the door was opened.

"We don't have a room here. We have a house," Johnson said. "It's perks on steroids."

One perk has gone up this year, with the prize money increased to $1.35 million. The winner gets $600,000, with $200,000 for last.

Harrington won the award for earliest arrival, but only because he was beaten in the first round of the World Match Play and decided to come over Saturday night. He went to an English pub that might have felt like being close to home except that it didn't show rugby or soccer on the television, which he found odd.

"Everything else is probably ahead of expectations," Harrington said.

Whether that includes the golf remains to be seen. Woods won by two shots last year at Poipu Bay, and that was one of the closer tournaments. He won by seven shots in 2005, by 14 shots in 2002, while Mickelson won by five shots in 2004 the year he shot 59.

The last playoff in this exhibition came in 2000.

It's golf for fun, free money for all, but it's still a competition.

"You want to win, and you don't want to tell the other guys you're trying," Harrington said. "It's relaxed, but you don't ever want to lose. Obviously, it's an exhibition. You've got your major champions here and it's kind of a showcase for TV. I like this idea where it's not quite as serious as normal golf. I like the idea we can somewhat enjoy it. But you're still trying to prepare properly."

Not surprisingly, Harrington was the last man on the course as the sun turned into a bright orange ball and dipped below the horizon. He is looking ahead, as usual, toward the end of his season and the start of next year.

The Irishman trails Ernie Els by about $300,000 in the European Tour Order of Merit, and while Els is done playing in Europe the rest of the 2007 season, Justin Rose in third place is playing in Portugal this week. Harrington figures he'll go to the season-ending Volvo Masters next week needing a third-place finish to win the Order of Merit for a second straight year.

"I'll treat it like a big event, like a major, and give it a full effort," he said.

Harrington was speaking of the Volvo Masters. As for the Grand Slam, he's just happy to be here, like everyone else.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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