LA JOLLA — It's a $4.8-million week on the PGA Tour here at the Buick Invitational, but big money has been a big part of the so-called West Coast swing for a while now.
The first eight tournaments of the year, until the pros head to Florida, offer $42.4 million in prize money. Not that long ago, in 1989, the prize money for the entire year added up to $41.2 million.
More money gets more attention, Phil Mickelson said, and that's only natural.
"A lot of guys are realizing that the tour does not start in Florida," he said.
Beginning today at Torrey Pines, the first pro tour event of the year in California gets underway, with John Daly as the defending champion and five of the top six ranked players in the world, all trying to get an early start in the money race.
At the top of the rankings is Vijay Singh, who has won the last two money titles and is in front again with $1.075 million in only two tournaments, including a victory last week in Honolulu.
Last year, Singh won nine times, the most since Tiger Woods won nine in 2000, including the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.
"He's been playing that way for the last couple of years, and this is just a continuation of that," Woods said of Singh. "He's been playing great. He's been doing the same things; just now it's a different year.
"Any time you win nine times, it's not easy to do. It's going to be hard for anyone to do that, and even when they did it in the past, it has not been easy, either. More than anything, you have to keep putting yourself there time and time again."
Woods, ranked second, third-ranked Ernie Els, No. 5 Phil Mickelson and No. 6 Sergio Garcia join Singh as the headliners in the field at Torrey Pines, which might have drawn one of its better fields because of its status as the 2008 U.S. Open venue. The 7,568-yard South Course is long, tough and, well, nice-looking, according to Mickel- son.
"The course looks spectacular," said Mickelson, who is playing his first tournament of the year after skipping the winners-only Mercedes at Kapalua, even though he qualified by winning the Bob Hope and the Masters last year.
"The greens are rolling really true and fast and the fairways are immaculate and the rough is extremely difficult, so it's going to make for a very difficult test."
Singh, who replaced Woods as the No. 1 player, also broke Woods' record for single-season earnings by becoming the first to make $10 million.
It might be the money or the way he has played, but Singh sounds confident about his ability to stay at the top of what some are calling the Big Four -- Singh, Woods, Els and Mickelson.
"I'm winning a lot more tournaments because I'm playing a lot better golf than anybody else right now," Singh said. "It's not a fluke.
"I'm enjoying it. I'm very comfortable with [No. 1] and unless somebody takes me off that position, I'm going to ride it as much as I can ... and I'm playing good enough golf to know that I can hang on to the position.
"It's a good feeling to go out there and know that you're the best player."
Last week at the Sony Open, Singh won when he birdied the last hole Sunday to beat Els by a shot after Els had closed with a 62.
Els acknowledged the power of the Big Four.
"Any week out here is a good field; it's obviously the guys that people talk about now. It's Vijay and Tiger and myself and Phil, so the four of us are here. But it's taking nothing away from the rest of the players. We are all out here to try and win."
Mickelson, a three-time winner at Torrey Pines, is beginning a stretch in which he plays six times in seven weeks, a span in which he will miss only the Nissan Open at Riviera. He defends his title next week at the Bob Hope.