Woods hoping to salvage season at Chevron

Tiger Woods will be the obvious focus of golf fans in 2011.

Chevron World Challenge

Oct. 2-5

Course: Sherwood Country Club (7,052 yards, par 72), Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Purse: $5 million. Winner's share: $1.2 million.

Field: Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Sean O'Hair, Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods.

Last year: Furyk beat McDowell by a stroke, closing with a 5-under 67 to finish at 13 under 275. McDowell got in the field when tournament host Woods withdrew.

Notes: PGA champion Martin Kaymer withdrew Sunday. The European money champion was replaced by Watney.

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – There’s good news.

Tiger Woods has one last chance to avoid his first winless season since he turned pro in 1996.

The bad news: He’s invited a cast of supporting actors who don’t figure to make things easy for him at his own tournament. Playing host to the Chevron World Challenge for the 12th time, Woods is actually doubling in his role as player for the first time since 2007 – when he marched to a seven-stroke triumph.

He was out of action in 2008 while recovering from a knee injury. Then a year ago he was dealing with the chaos in his life that carried over into a challenging 2010.

“It’s been difficult,” Woods said, when asked about dealing with the controversy. “Harder than anyone could ever imagine, unless you’ve actually gone through it before.”

Pile up everything negative during this year – the divorce, the anguish to his children, the loss of sponsors, the many public apologies – and going winless on the PGA Tour for the first time doesn’t quite resonate like the others. He can salvage some measure of pride by winning at Sherwood CC for the fifth time, but even if he doesn’t, Woods isn’t so down on his game that he’s lost sight of what motivates him.

“I love playing the game of golf,” Woods said. “As far as the passion (for golf) goes, that hasn’t changed.”

What has changed is the complexion of this Chevron World Challenge. At its inception in 1999, the tournament was Woods playing host to a dozen players in a light-hearted, silly season-ending party. But he always envisioned it being better, with a deeper field of global standouts – one that would reward players with valuable world-ranking points.

Consider it mission accomplished. Gathered at Sherwood CC are seven of the world’s top 10 players (Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, and Rory McIlroy), 11 of the top 20 and no one outside the top 50.

If anyone can testify as to the benefit of such a tournament at season’s end, it’s Graeme McDowell. He wasn’t eligible for last year’s tournament but got a call when Woods withdrew. Flying from China to Hong Kong to Los Angeles, McDowell teed it up as a last-minute replacement, finished second to Furyk, and secured so many world ranking points that he jumped inside the top 50.

That secured him exemptions into the 2010 majors and needless to say, McDowell cashed in big time. He won the U.S. Open and is ranked so high in the world order (No. 11) that he’s back at Sherwood again.

This time, however, he doesn’t replace Woods, he competes against him.

No, it’s not an easy assignment for the man from Northern Ireland. Then again, it’s not easy for Woods, either, which is pretty much in keeping with everything else in what will forever rate as a forgettable 2010.

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