THOUSAND OAKS, California, Nov 27 (Reuters) - Merely qualifying for the elite field of 18 at this week's $5 million World Challenge is an achievement in itself for the players, an early Christmas present to signal a successful year.
Though the four-round event hosted by five-times 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 world's top 35.
"It's an honour just to be here," U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson told reporters on a sun-drenched Tuesday below the Santa Monica Mountains while preparing for Thursday's opening round.
"To make an elite field of 18 guys is a good feeling and just shows that you've been doing the right stuff. I am excited for the week."
Fellow American Keegan Bradley, who won his first major title at last year's PGA Championship, agreed.
"It's always good to be back here at Sherwood and play in Tiger's tournament," Bradley said. "It's a really fun week, one of the most fun weeks of the year on a fun golf course.
"If you are in this tournament, you've had a great couple of years because you've got to be in the top (portion) of the world rankings, so that's a really good sign.
"This is a bonus tournament. It's run so amazingly and to have Tiger be the host obviously makes it more special. It's one that I look forward to every year."
For PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker, competing in the warm autumn sunshine of Southern California provides welcome relief from the biting cold of his home in Wisconsin.
"It's a good opportunity for me to come out of the cold weather and get some rounds under my belt," said the 12-time PGA Tour winner.
"It just turned for the worse back in Wisconsin this last weekend. We had great weather all fall and I actually played a little golf out on the golf course last week, but then over the weekend it got cold and pretty cruddy.
"I haven't really picked up the clubs since the (Sep. 28-30) Ryder Cup so it's a good opportunity to get my game going again for the New Year."
Woods, who beat compatriot Zach Johnson by one shot to win last year's World Challenge, is delighted with the quality of the players assembled at Sherwood this week.
"It's another great field, 11 of 12 Ryder Cuppers from the U.S. side, plus Graeme (McDowell) and (Ian) Poults (Poulter) playing as well," the world number three said.
"It's a pretty stout field. I'm just really excited about the overall week."
Woods is also excited to be back at a venue where he has triumphed five times before, most recently 12 months ago when he ended a victory drought of two years.
"I hadn't won in a little bit there, and it was nice to not only win but to go head to head against Zach and to do it the way I did," the 14-times major champion said of his 2011 success.
"That really helped a lot because I had to earn it. I was one down with two (holes) to go and birdied the last two. Against a guy like Zach, you know he's not going to go away."
The full 18-man field: Woods, Bradley, Jason Dufner, Jim Furyk, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Stricker, Bubba Watson, Poulter, McDowell, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Bo Van Pelt and Nick Watney. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)