The varied role of Tiger's tournament

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- To qualify for and accept an invitation to the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge is not a perk that even otherwise well-compensated golfers take lightly.

Few could be so jaded as to scoff at a minimum of $100,000 for a week's work -- and the potential for far more -- along with the usual wining, dining and pampering that comes with such occasions.

The mountainous Southern California backdrop -- even if it might be a bit chilly -- and the favorable, relatively short workdays with only an 18-player field make for a pretty nice week.

But aside from the obvious $1 million payday to the winner, there is value to this week in addition to the monetary variety. Describing it depends on the individual, but it basically entails ending the calendar year on a high note and looking for the carryover.

"It's always nice to go into the offseason knowing that you finish strong," said defending champion Graeme McDowell, who has two victories and a second-place finish in three appearances at Sherwood Country Club. "You've got a little confidence, a little momentum.

"I've won twice here and it doesn't register as an official win, but it registers in the mind. It registers when you beat a world-class field like you play against here when you beat Tiger Woods around a golf course he's dominated on. To beat quality players, yeah, confidence is everything in this game. That little injection of energy and confidence going into an offseason can spur someone on to the early part of next season."

There are several recent examples, perhaps none better than McDowell himself. The Northern Irishman got a late invite to the 2009 event -- the first year it offered world ranking points -- and took advantage to move into the top 50 in the world, securing a Masters invitation for 2010.

The Masters was not a given for McDowell, who that year went on to win the U.S. Open, two European Tour events and holed the winning putt for Europe at the Ryder Cup.

This year, after winning Woods' event a year ago, McDowell again won three times worldwide, including a victory at the RBC Heritage.

There are other examples, too. After winning Tiger's tournament in 2009, Jim Furyk went on to a player of the year season, capturing three PGA Tour titles and the FedEx Cup in 2010. Woods won the 2011 event and went on to win three times in 2012.

In fact, Woods has never failed to win fewer than three times in a season after winning his own tournament in December.

Of course, not everyone can fare well this week, but there are likely different agendas in play. While Woods is always seeking to perform well -- and donates all of his prize money from the event to his foundation -- others might have different goals.

McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter, Jason Day and Lee Westwood are coming off heavy playing schedules late in the year.

Others have barely picked up a club in recent weeks. Steve Stricker, for example, tweeted photos last week of him practicing on a snow-covered driving range in Wisconsin. He has not played since the Presidents Cup, eight weeks ago. This has always been a week of chipping off the rust for him. The same could be said for Furyk, who has yet to tee it up in the 2013-14 season.

For players such as Dustin Johnson, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson -- all of whom are expected to play the first event of 2014, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions -- this is an opportunity to keep in touch with the game with an eye on next year.

"This last part of the season was all about trying to build momentum going into 2014," said McIlroy, who is coming off a victory over Adam Scott on Sunday at the Australian Open -- his first of 2013. "I feel for the most part I've done that. Couple of good finishes in Australia. I got a win in Australia. I'd love to get myself in the mix this week, and finish the season off on a really high note and go into the offseason and into 2014 in a really positive frame of mind."