Tiger Woods has won his own event five times and the world No. 1 is the favorite to emerge victorious again on Sunday at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Rory McIlroy, Woods’ Nike stablemate who on Sunday at the Australian Open dramatically ended his year-long winless skid, has the second-best shot at capturing the final World Challenge title to be contested in California, according to the oddsmakers.
While his five-win 2013 PGA Tour season is good enough reason to bet on Tiger to clean up in the 18-player field made up of top-tier golfers, the venue makes a Woods W even more likely. There are those four triumphs in the tourney that he hosts at Sherwood Country Club, and if there’s anything Tiger knows how to do, it’s winning multiple times on courses he particularly fancies. Take the eight wins each at Bay Hill and Torrey Pines, as well as four victories apiece at Augusta and Muirfield Village, for example.
This week, he’ll attempt to dethrone defending champion and two-time World Challenge winner Graeme McDowell, who is rather partial to Sherwood CC as well. As a last-minute replacement for Woods in 2009, the little-known McDowell finished second and went on to capture the 2010 U.S. Open.
Returning to the World Challenge after his major championship victory tour, McDowell took Woods on head-to-head and bested him on the first hole of overtime -- after Tiger’s then-bagman Steve Williams removed his caddie’s bib in premature anticipation of his boss’ win in regulation. He repeated his accomplishment in 2012 after playing elsewhere in 2011.
"There’s no doubt, I always look back fondly not only at 2010 when I won here," McDowell told reporters ahead of last year’s tilt. "But I look fondly at 2009, as well, as certainly something that kick-started a bit of a chain reaction of amazing events that would be a very defining year for me in my career so far."
For Woods, the victory in 2011 was especially satisfying since it got him back to the winner’s circle after his own two-year drought.
"It feels good," Woods told reporters after coming from behind to beat Zach Johnson. "I've been in contention twice this year, which is not very often. I had the lead at the Masters on the back nine there, and obviously had a chance there at the Aussie Open. So that's my third time with a chance to win it. I pulled it off this time."
Look for McIlroy to make some noise as well, though he may be emotionally drained after finally tossing that 0-for-2013 monkey off his back.
"Really pleased. Really pleased," McIlroy said about notching his first worldwide win in 12 months. "Since end of September I’ve just felt in a better place mentally, with some things off the course, definitely felt better with how my swing was. I just felt like everything was coming together the way I wanted it to."