Mike Hulbert of Orlando, Fla., winner of more than $276,000 on the PGA Tour last year, played the front nine of the new Tournament Players Club at Avenel yesterday and liked what he saw.

"Heck, I think this course is in great shape," said Hulbert, practicing for the Kemper Open, which will start Thursday. "I heard some people say the course wasn't in good shape, but I don't know where they're at."

Two years ago, Hulbert was an early leader in the Kemper at Congressional Country Club, after shooting 32 on his opening nine holes. "I like the golf course over there, but I have no regrets coming over here," he said. "Congressional was a good course, but it was long out there, let's face it."

The Kemper was played for the past seven years at Congressional, but the tournament now will take a permanent home at the Avenel stadium layout, which features natural amphitheaters, mounds and hills around most tees and greens.

"If the wind doesn't blow, somebody's going to shoot 63, 64, or 65," Hulbert said. "People want to see birdies and eagles. When you're playing good, you can shoot 15- to 18-under {over four rounds}. We {PGA Tour pros} are gonna eat up anything. We'll shoot some good scores, unless it gets windy or dries out."

Jim Seeley, general manager at Avenel, compared Congressional and Avenel.

"The first comparison: there were a lot of raised greens at Congressional. Here, the spectators will be looking down at the professionals. From a competitive standpoint, I think the players will find a lot more strategy involved in playing this golf course . . .

"Someone as strong as Greg Norman can attack that second hole and get it on that green {in two} despite the fact that it's 615 yards long. A player that can't reach it will want to leave himself a full short iron into there, instead of some cute little pitch shot.

"If the greens are firm, the scores would probably be in the 7-, 8- or 9-under par range {for four rounds}. If the greens are soft, there's going to be some real low scores."

Kemper Notes:

With the addition of Ray Floyd and John Mahaffey, the field is complete for the Merrill Lynch Shootout, a hole-by-hole elimination starting today at 2 p.m. at the first tee. The winner will receive $3,000 from a purse of $10,200 . . .

Bruce Soulsby and amateur partners Enos Fry, Meric Legnini, Dave Mullen and Miggs Reilly won yesterday's pro-am. The regular Kemper Pro-Am will be held Wednesday . . .

Mark O'Meara withdrew from the Kemper yesterday for medical reasons.