Thousand Oaks, CA – Nick Watney fired a 5-under-par 67 on Thursday to grab a 2-stroke lead after the opening round of the World Challenge.
This event, hosted by defending champion Tiger Woods, is taking place at Sherwood Country Club outside Los Angeles, California. The field is made up of 18 of the top 35 players in the world rankings.
"Winning this event, it would be an honor," said Watney, who last won at the CIMB Classic in late October. "The list of champions is pretty strong. I think everybody comes here wanting to win even though it's during the holiday season and all that stuff. But yeah, me personally, I'm trying to use it to prepare for next season, and winning never gets old, so that's the goal."
Keegan Bradley, an opponent to the USGA and R&A's recent anchoring proposal, used his belly putter to card a 69 -- good for a second-place tie with Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk.
"It would be great to go off and really play well here and kind of -- I've been catching such flak on Twitter and these other places, it would be good to kind of quiet them a little bit," said Bradley. "I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application in to Burger King for 2016. It always feels good to play well, but this feels better almost."
Webb Simpson, another notable name affected by the anchoring ban, is tied for fifth with Woods and Bo Van Pelt.
Woods is a five-time champion at this event. Last year, he collected his first win of any kind since 2009 when he edged Zach Johnson by a single stroke. The drought lasted 749 days, 107 weeks and 27 starts, by far the longest span in between victories for Woods.
"To me this is ending my year, ending my season, and then take a nice little break over the holidays and then gear back up for next year," said the host.
Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and Jason Day are tied for eighth place at 1-under, while European Ryder Cup hero Ian Poulter, Steve Stricker, Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner and Matt Kuchar are knotted at 1-over,
Johnson and Dustin Johnson are 2-over and Brandt Snedeker is alone in last place at plus-3.
Watney, who won at The Barclays earlier this year, began his round with eight consecutive pars before carding a birdie on the par-4 ninth. That gained shot set off a torrid outward nine, which saw Watney reel off consecutive birdies on Nos. 13 and 14.
He picked up another shot on No. 16 before rolling home a birdie putt on the last to close at 5-under.
"The front nine was a bit -- a little sloppy," said Watney. "But I mean, my short game is definitely where I need to improve for next year, so kind of been getting into that a little bit, and it helped me today."
NOTES: This is the 14th year of the World Challenge ... Dufner and Snedeker are competing in this event for the first time ... Eleven of the 12 players from the American Ryder Cup team are in the field -- only Phil Mickelson is not playing this week ... Woods won the tournament in 2001, 04, 06-07, 11. He also owns four runner-up finishes.