Golf-Woods to defend World Challenge against strong field

Thu Oct 18, 2012 3:57am IST

Oct 17 (Reuters) - Tournament host Tiger Woods will be joined by two reigning major champions in what he regards as one of the deepest fields ever seen at the World Challenge, to be played from Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Thousand Oaks, California.

Masters champion Bubba Watson and U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson were both named on Wednesday in the elite 18-man field for the $5 million invitational event at Sherwood Country Club.

Also competing will be fellow United States Ryder Cup players Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker, plus England's Ian Poulter, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell and Australian Jason Day.

Twelve of the world's top 20 golfers are lined up for Sherwood and Phil Mickelson, who likes to spend time with his family at the end of the year, is the only member of the 12-man 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team not playing.

"It's one of the deepest fields we've ever had," defending champion Woods said on a conference call. "We're very excited about having as many Ryder Cup players, and players who have won all around the world playing in this event."

Woods has fond memories of his World Challenge victory at Sherwood last year because it was his first title anywhere since the 2009 Australian Masters and set the tone for a successful 2012 PGA Tour campaign highlighted by three wins.

"It gave me a lot of confidence, there's no doubt," the 36-year-old American said of his one-shot triumph over compatriot Zach Johnson, who will also be back at Sherwood in November.

"One was winning it, yes, but also the way I did it and who I beat ... to go head to head with Zach like that, and Zach is not the kind of guy who's going to go away."

'SHOT OF CONFIDENCE'

Woods came from one shot behind Johnson with two holes to play, birdies at the 17th and the last giving him a three-under-par 69 and a 10-under total of 278.

"That gave me just a huge shot of confidence going into this year," the 14-times major champion said. "One of the reasons why I think I was able to win early in the year, in March, is because of that."

Woods won his 72nd PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, then followed up with victories at the Memorial tournament and AT&T National.

Though he has not triumphed in the majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, he is happy with the overall progress he has made with coach Sean Foley on the fourth swing change of his professional career.

"We're just working on exactly the same things we've done all summer," Woods said. "I'm getting a little bit more comfortable with it, and it's nice to actually start to putt well again.

"My short game has been solid. I've made a few changes there, and that's been very nice to see the progress I've made.

"We do have an off-season programme in which we want to do some work ... and then I'll start really focusing on next year and my preparation and lead-up to Augusta (for the 2013 Masters)." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden)

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