The 2008 PGA Tour season begins Thursday with its traditional opener, the Mercedes Championship in Maui.

In what is becoming another tradition, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won't be there.

Mickelson, who stopped going years ago, isn't a fan of Kapalua's Plantation Course. Woods opted out in 2006 to take an extended break and probably won't return any time soon.

Opening without the two big no-shows always is a blow for the tour. But the tournament will go on and, even in their absence, there will be plenty of talk about Woods and Mickelson.

With that in mind, here are the stories to watch in 2008:

A real Tiger Slam

Woods has won five of the last six tournaments he has entered, and finished second in the other one. So gear up the Grand Slam talk again.

The stars are aligned from a course standpoint. Obviously, he has a good handle on Augusta National. The U.S. Open will be at Torrey Pines in San Diego, where he has won five Buick Invitationals. The British Open is at Royal Birkdale, where he placed third in 1998 with much less game than he has today.

Woods didn't have a good 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, the site of this year's PGA Championship. But if he comes into that tournament with three down and one to go for the Slam, would you bet against him?

What about Phil?

Mickelson is coming off a bizarre up-and-down year that included a midseason wrist injury. Turning 38 in June, he would like to bag a couple of more majors before the window starts to close.

Mickelson also will be gearing up for Torrey Pines in his hometown. The U.S. Open could be the first time golf fans get treated to a true Woods-Mickelson showdown in a major.

Adding years

Speaking of the closing window, Vijay Singh turns 45 in February. Even though he added two more victories in 2007 to his incredible post-40 run, he failed to record a top 10 in a major. Was that a sign of age, or just a blip? Singh's performance in 2008 should provide some answers.

Return of Els

A knee injury in 2005 derailed Ernie Els, but he showed some flashes of his old self in 2007 by making runs in the British Open and PGA Championship. He hasn't won on the PGA Tour since 2004. Els figures to break through again in 2008.

Comeback candidates

Davis Love III (96th on the money list) and Chris DiMarco (107th) will look to bounce back after injury-plagued years. David Duval also will give it one more attempt.

After taking most of last year off to take care of his pregnant wife, Duval will try to rediscover the lost magic.

FedEx Cup

The first year of the format had its pluses and minuses. Now we will see if it can start to catch on for the long haul. A must: a more understandable points system that creates more volatility during the actual playoffs.