Sherwood offers rich reward for Tiger and guests
Thousand Oaks (California): For the 18 players vying for supremacy at this week`s $5 million Chevron World Challenge, merely competing in the Tiger Woods-hosted event is confirmation of a successful year.
With the notable exception of four-times champion Woods, who has not won a tournament for more than two years, every other player in the invitational field at Sherwood Country Club is ranked in the world`s top 50.
While the title at Sherwood is unofficial, the Challenge offers official world ranking points and the player who finishes last on Sunday is guaranteed a cheque for $140,000.
"I played a pro-am here maybe five years ago, and I watched my dad (Jay) play the event," American Bill Haas told reporters on Tuesday while preparing for Thursday`s opening round.
"I remember he was saying this should be one of your goals ... to get here one day, so it`s a great feeling for me to be inside the ropes playing this event. Hopefully I can make it back here in the future."
Haas earned his first World Challenge spot after a career-best PGA Tour campaign highlighted by victory at the season-ending Tour Championship along with FedExCup honours and its $10 million bonus.
"I had an unbelievable finish there, and the way the points all worked out for me to win the FedExCup was pretty amazing," Haas said of his lucrative windfall at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
Since then, the 29-year-old has kept busy, playing in the Australian Open, representing his country at the Presidents Cup and also competing in China.
"It seems the better you play, the less off-season you have," the world number 22 said with a broad grin. "But these are all good problems to have.
"If I could play these (events) every year, I don`t know if I care to have an off-season. These are pretty special tournaments to be in."
Fellow American Keegan Bradley, who won his first major title at the PGA Championship in August, agreed with Haas.
"It`s just an honour for a player like me to be in a field like this with players like Tiger, Nick Watney and some of the other guys," Bradley said. "It`s really cool.
"I`ve watched this tournament a bunch of times. I watched it every year pretty much. At the beginning of the year, I would never have thought I`d be here playing.
"Before the PGA (Championship), I wouldn`t have thought I would have been here playing. This week is a fun experience for me, and I`ll really, truly enjoy it."
This week will be an especially significant one for Woods as he seeks to win his first tournament since the 2009 Australian Masters.
A year ago, he was seemingly perfectly poised to end his title drought when he began the final round with a four-shot lead over U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.
However, 14-times major winner Woods surrendered his advantage before losing to McDowell in a playoff.
"It was a great week, even though I didn`t win," Woods said of his crushing loss. "I putted awful starting out ... then I lost my swing in the middle part of the round, and pieced it back together again piece by piece.
"I was proud of that. I was very committed coming in, and hit some really, really good shots coming in, which was good."
Woods looked in good shape on a glorious sun-splashed afternoon at Sherwood on Tuesday as he crisply struck golf balls on the practice range watched by his coach Sean Foley.
While a long-awaited victory this week would not count as official, it would certainly validate the encouraging form he recently displayed in Australia during that country`s national open and at the Presidents Cup.
It would also give him a welcome jolt of confidence for his 2012 campaign as he bids to put behind him the bitter memories of his struggles for fitness and form over the last two years with his private life in tatters.
He has an impressive track record at Sherwood, where he last triumphed in 2007, and a fifth success in his own tournament could well be on the cards for Sunday.