Nothing 'silly' about big money payouts at the Target

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The reigning Masters champion is still getting used to some of the perks that now come his way. Sort of like a kid at Christmas, Zach Johnson's eyes were wide open and his excitement escalated when he arrived in Southern California for the Target World Challenge.

"They call it the Silly Season," Johnson said of the plethora of offseason events that dot the schedule this time of year. "If this is a Silly Season tournament, then we've got to recheck our tournament protocol, because this is as good as it gets, as far as I'm concerned."

Johnson shot 3-under-par 69 at Sherwood Country Club on Thursday to trail first-round leader Jim Furyk by one stroke at the $5.75-million tournament.

And that big money is not a misprint.

The purse here is larger than all but a handful of regular tournaments on the PGA Tour, most of which pay in the $5 million to $5.5 million range. And when you consider there are just 16 players, it makes this a bit more than just a hit-and-giggle tournament.

"It's almost like a World Golf Championship event without a full field," Johnson said. "It's awesome."

Since the PGA Tour season officially ended in early November at the Children's Miracle Network Classic, there have been four other tournaments with PGA Tour sanctioning: the World Cup, the Skins Game, the Father/Son Challenge and the Merrill Lynch Shootout.

Each one of those tournaments employed some sort of team format.

The Target is purely 72 holes of stroke play, with $1.35 million going to the winner on Sunday. Even last place (occupied by Colin Montgomerie at the moment) pays $170,000.

"I think when you think of Silly Season, you think of made-for-TV events, Shootout, the Skins Game and different formats," Furyk said. "But having a four-round golf tournament and having 16 of the best players here ... yeah, it has more of a golf tournament feel to it. Obviously it's a small field. You have to beat 15 players rather than 43.

"I never really looked at it ... who of the players ever coined the phrase 'Silly Season'? I don't think any of us ever came up with that. We still have to work, go out and prepare to play."

And that is exactly what tournament host Tiger Woods had in mind. Woods, playing for the first time since the Presidents Cup in September, led the tournament he's won three times for most of the day, until a final-hole double-bogey dropped him to a 69 and a tie for second.

This is the ninth year of the tournament that began in 1999.

"The idea and premise of the event was to bring awareness to what we're trying to do with the foundation," Woods said, referring to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which is based in nearby Anaheim. "That was the foremost. Now how do you do that?

"Well, in our sport, you bring the best players in the world together. And what better place for me than bringing it back to my hometown in Southern California? To have a championship venue like this, to have world-class players from all over the world come here and compete. ... That lends awareness to what we're trying to do for kids. And as a competitor, you certainly like to play against the best."

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.