Northwestern Mutual World Challenge: Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and the top players seek success at the California finale

Woods's invite event begins in Los Angeles this week

Golf is the game that never sleeps. Such is the global nature of the sport it was possible for Rory McIlroy to arrive in Los Angeles for the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge this week about the same time that he teed off at the Australian Open the day before.

McIlroy’s backwards blast through the time zones from Sydney to California sees him take his place in an elite  18-man field that includes Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. His first victory in 13 months on Sunday, clipping Adam Scott with a birdie at the last, means that Steve Stricker is the only member of the world’s top 10 without a win this year.

He could put that right in the Woods invite event, of course, which begins today and amounts to the final week of the year for the big dogs. Those hovering around the top 50 in the world will be hoping to secure their spot at the first major of 2014, the Masters, which guarantees a place for those inside that mark at the year’s end.

Scott, Phil Mickelson and Brandt Snedeker are the only players in the world top 25 not involved at either the World Challenge, the Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa, or the Hong Kong Open. Given the depth of the fields in California and Sun City there are plenty of ranking points to catapult into Augusta those on the bubble that have a good week.

That does not apply to US Open champion Justin Rose, who is taking advantage of family links in South Africa to line up at the Nedbank alongside Luke Donald and the man of the moment Henrik Stenson, who added the Race to Dubai crown a fortnight ago to the FedEx Cup he won at the PGA Tour finale in  September. 

Stenson has not picked up a club since Dubai in order to give his injured wrist a chance to recover. As a result he was forced to pull out of his defence of the South African Open, a victory which accelerated his remarkable rise through the rankings from 230 in the world last year to No 3.

“I know it must have been difficult for everyone involved in the SA Open to see me winning in Dubai, hitting a three wood to two feet on the last hole of the tournament and then withdrawing from that tournament,” Stenson said, “but I had been putting a lot of pressure on it for a whole month and was getting treatment every day, taking anti-inflammatory pills. I have spent more time in the ice bucket than a bottle of Moet & Chandon over the last month and I just had to rest it.

“Once you are in a bad cycle you can’t just keep putting pressure on it because your body can’t take that. I had to listen to what my body was telling me. I hope it is fine to play here because this place has been really good to me and I love coming down here.”

Roger that says Rose. “South Africa’s very close to my heart, not only because I was born here, but also because I have a lot of family here. My brother lives in Jo’burg and my mum lives down in George. I haven’t seen them all for quite a while and from that perspective it’s wonderful to catch up.”

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