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Tight race, but Tiger tipped
By Neville Leck Last updated: 27th November 2012
Tiger Woods at number three is the highest ranked player in the elite 18-man field that will tee off in this week's World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California.
He is also the reigning champion and a five-time winner of an event that has put millions into the college-access programs of the Tiger Woods Foundation.
But that, by no means, signals that a sixth Woods victory is a forgone conclusion.
After recently losing his World number two spot to Luke Donald, it is very possible, of course, that the long-time former World number one and holder of 14 majors will have doubled his work rate in recent week's and will come out with all guns blazing, if only to show the world that he is anything but a spent force.
But with the other 17 men in the field making up an opposing force that is as formidable as it is, he certainly won't be taking anything for granted although the latest golf odds see him as favourite.
To start with it boasts three of the USPGA Tour's biggest winners this year - the reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker, Masters champion Bubba Watson and US Open champion Webb Simpson.
Add to this the fact that also ranged against him are another nine warriors from September's mighty Ryder Cup battle at Medinah - Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who were in Jose Maria Olazabal's European team that edged home with a late charge in Sunday's singles, and Americans Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Bo Van Pelt, Nick Watney and Jason Day were not in Davis Love III's 2012 US Ryder Cup team, but they have all been tournament winners this year and in this wide open race, they too should not be underestimated
Form, of course, can be very fickle and with most of the players in the field not having played much competitive golf since the WGC-HSBC World Champions won by Poulter at Mission Hills in China on November 4, form can hardly be the base for choosing a winner from the galaxy of stars on parade at Sherwood.
In the pre-tournament search, you have to start with Woods, not only because he is the highest-ranked player in the field, but also because he has won more tournaments and more money this year than any of his rivals, and, after winning five and finishing as the runner-up in four of the 12 World Challenge tournaments played since its inception in 2002, he must know the Sherwood course like the back of his hand.
Along with Woods (2011), the other two most recent winners at Thousand Oaks are Furyk (2009) and McDowell (2010), who like Woods, are also the owners of US Open titles.
But to my mind, still-to-win-a major Poulter might be the man that Woods should fear most.
The colourful, self-made Englishman is, after all, the most recent big-time winner and he did say after his WGC-HSBC Champions triumph earlier this month that he now believes he could win a major so he won't be short on confidence.
It's true he had a mediocre run at last week's DP World Tour Championship where he finished 13 shots behind a revved-up Rory McIlroy, but at least he won't be ice-cold coming to Sherwood - and in the light of the fact that of the seven World Challenge events not won by Tiger, three have been won by Europeans - Padraig Harrington (2002), Luke Donald (2005) and McDowell (2010) - it would seem that recent competitive activity may be a telling factor.
Mind you, a break from the hard grind of stressful, top-level golf can also do wonders if not too many cobwebs have been allowed to gather, so with most of the Americans in the field in this bracket, who knows?
Indeed, anyone could win in this stellar field which was responsible for taking home 19 US Tour titles this year, though the three men I most expect to see up among the front runners this week are Snedeker, Dufner and possible Mahan, who might be keen to show Love that it was a mistake to have left him out of his US Ryder Cup team.
Besides, together with three-time winner Woods, Mahan can count himself among the select five who won multiple US Tournaments this year, the others being Snedeker, Dufner and Zach Johnson, who, like he did, all won twice.
As I have said, heading into Thursday's tee-off, Tiger seems to hold most of the aces, but if he is unable to bring his A Game to the table, with a million dollar first prize up for grabs, anyone of his 17 ambitious rivals could come out tops, including Bo Van Pelt who even though he has less credentials than most of his rivals, has been quietly establishing himself this past season as a man to watch.
THE FULL FIELD
(In alphabetical order; all US unless stated))
McDowell, Graeme (N Ire)
Poulter, Ian (Eng)
Van Pelt, Bo
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