Sherwood, home to a forest of elite players
THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA
FOR the 18 players vying for supremacy at this week's Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in glorious early-winter weather, merely qualifying for the field is confirmation of a successful year.
Though the four-round tournament hosted by five-time champion Tiger Woods is not a PGA Tour event, it offers official world-ranking points and every player competing at Sherwood Country Club this week is ranked in the top 30.
"Sherwood is a lovely place to come to, and California this time of the year is a great place to play," England's Lee Westwood told Reuters on Tuesday.
"There being only 18 players, you know you have to be at the top of the world rankings to play in the event."
Asked what he felt was the best thing about qualifying for the elite 18-man field, he replied: "I think the exclusivity, really - that and Sherwood."
Jordan Spieth, who won the John Deere Classic in July before capping a sensational debut season by being voted this year's PGA Tour's Rookie of the Year, was especially delighted to be making his maiden appearance at the event.
The 20-year-old, ranked 22nd in the world, was a late addition to the field after fellow American Brandt Snedeker pulled out due to a leg injury.
While preparing for today's opening round, Spieth told reporters: "I'm very excited. I got in by an unfortunate way, I guess."
Spieth, who recorded nine top-10s starts in 23 starts on this year's PGA Tour, has not competed since finishing 17th at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China a month ago.
Woods, who beat compatriot Zach Johnson by one shot to win the most recent of his World Challenge titles in 2011, is delighted with the quality of the players assembled at Sherwood this week.
The world No. 1 said: "It's the deepest and strongest field that we've possibly had."
Woods heads the elite field, but will face a strong challenge from players such as Northern Irish world No. 6 Rory McIlroy, seventh-ranked American Matt Kuchar and 10th-ranked Australian Jason Day.
Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, who won last year's title by three shots, will be bidding to triumph at Sherwood for a third successive year.