The Northwestern Mutual World Challenge is this week. It's an unofficial Tour event, but world ranking points count and, as host Tiger Woods showed by winning in 2011, a victory this week could lead to greater things next season. With that in mind, GolfChannel.com writers offer up who most needs a win at Sherwood Country Club.
By RANDALL MELL
Jim Furyk could use the boost that comes from beating a small but talented field in Tiger's event. While Furyk has enjoyed an excellent career, the near misses in the last couple of years have to be aggravating. The failed chances to close can't sit well with this proud champion.
With the PGA Tour reviewing its Hall of Fame criteria, you have to wonder where Furyk will stand in future consideration with 16 PGA Tour titles that include one major. An unofficial win this week just might help Furyk gain the momentum he needs to make a final push to finish off a Hall of Fame career with another major next year.
By REX HOGGARD
Maybe this was always going to be Bubba Watson’s modus operandi. Either by design or DNA, the big left-hander doesn’t scream consistency, but following his maiden major in 2012 the masses expected more.
More than just three top-10 finishes in 21 starts this season; more than just one legitimate chance at victory at the Travelers Championship, which was spoiled by closing rounds of 70 and a heated exchange with his caddie; more than a 37th-place finish on the final FedEx Cup point list and a playoff run that ended at the BMW Championship.
A victory this week at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge wouldn’t turn an underwhelming season into something worth celebrating, but it would make the normal winter break a little more cheerful.
Nor would a victory this week be entirely out of character for Watson, who has finished inside the top 10 in his last two starts at Tiger Woods’ invitational (T-9 in 2012 and T-6 in ’11), and he began his 2013-14 campaign with a tie for eighth at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
More than any of the other 17 world-class players assembled this week at Sherwood, Watson needs a victory, be it official or otherwise, to give him something to remember from what was a forgettable season.
By RYAN LAVNER
His performance in Australia passed the eyeball test, but another victory would confirm that he is truly back (or close) to the player who ruled 2012. A streaky talent, Rory McIlroy has the chance to rewrite expectations for 2014 if he can rattle off back-to-back wins, this time against 17 of the top 30 players in the world. Unless his game disappears on the 13-hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, he should be freed up after his first win in more than 12 months. Re-watch his winning putt – his exhale afterward told you all you need to know about how much it meant to him. With his swing sorted out (four top-6s in his last five worldwide starts), and with a comfortable driver-and-ball combination, he can return to being the freewheeling player who simply picks a target and makes an aggressive swing. We forgot how beautiful it can be.
By JASON SOBEL
Of the 18 players in this week’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge field, none of 'em could use a win more than Jim Furyk.
Think about the enormous monkey that Rory McIlroy extracted from his back with that Australian Open victory this past weekend. There’s no denying he needed a title to both gain some confidence and silence the critics. But let’s keep this in mind: McIlroy’s winless drought lasted just over a year, while Furyk’s current streak is more than three times longer.
In the three years and three months since Furyk dually claimed the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, he has experienced enough heartache and heartbreak for a lifetime. He was in pole position at last year’s U.S. Open with three holes to play … and lost. He was the 54-hole leader at this year’s PGA Championship … and lost. Despite 19 top-10 finishes and more than $8 million in earnings since that rainy afternoon at East Lake Golf Club, he hasn’t claimed any hardware.
With 16 career wins and one major, he’s resting on the fault line of a World Golf Hall of Fame induction someday. But he could certainly use a few more wins to help his case.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that potential candidates for this assignment have been crossing their names off the list in recent weeks. Jason Day broke through with a win in Australia. McIlroy finally got one, too. Maybe now it’s Furyk’s turn.
He won this tournament four years ago, a prelude to the winningest season of his career. Repeating that feat would be the first step to winning more in the future, too.
By WILL GRAY
It’s hard for me to believe there’s much urgency for any player in the 18-man field to win this week’s unofficial – albeit lucrative – event. That being said, the person that might need it the most would be Lee Westwood.
It seems like a decade has passed since the Englishman topped the world rankings, and it’s been 18 months since his last worldwide victory. Westwood has had a solid 2013 campaign, but his year will likely be remembered most for the one that got away – his squandering of a 54-hole lead at the British Open en route to a tie for third. Much like Graeme McDowell used his victory last year at Sherwood to break out of a mini-drought and propel him into a new season that included three worldwide wins, so, too, Westwood could parlay a victory in California into even more success as the calendar flips to 2014.