McDowell storms to lead at World Challenge

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Graeme McDowell recorded seven birdies Friday en route to a 6-under 66, propelling him to a three-shot lead after two rounds at the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

McDowell began his round with three consecutive birdies and made four more on the inward nine. The Ulsterman leads by three shots over a trio of players, including Bo Van Pelt, Jim Furyk and Keegan Bradley.

'I've always enjoyed putting on these greens,' said McDowell, who won this event in 2010. 'It was nice to see a few go in the hole today.'

Seeking his second World Challenge title in as many years, Tiger Woods carded a 3-under 69 Friday and sits alone in fifth place, four shots off the pace. Woods briefly grabbed a share of the lead after four birdies across holes 9-13, but fell back with a bogey on 15 after a poor chip and was unable to gain any further ground on McDowell.

A leader after the first round, Nick Watney struggled to a 1-over 73 on a day in which 12 players in the 18-man field were able to break par. He is tied for sixth with Rickie Fowler, who chipped in for birdie on the home hole to cap a round of 67, the second-best score of the day.

All told, 15 of the 18 players participating will begin Saturday at even par or better. Low scores may continue this weekend as rain remains in the forecast and lift, clean and place conditions are anticipated for Saturday's third round.

This is the final destination of a whirlwind trip for McDowell, who spent two weeks in China, a short holiday in Dubai, a tournament in Australia, back to Dubai and then across eight time zones to California.

It's also been somewhat of a whirlwind year, filled with opportunity, but no trophies.

He played in the final group in back-to-back majors, the U.S. Open and British Open, without winning. He was on the winning Ryder Cup team again, only he concedes his game wasn't there and he earned only one point.

McDowell always feels relaxed at Sherwood Country Club. Suddenly, though, he has something at stake. The World Challenge doesn't belong to any tour. It offers world ranking points, though he isn't in dire need of them. But there's a trophy, and McDowell hasn't hoisted one of those since that birdie-birdie finish to beat Woods in a playoff at Sherwood in 2010.

'I would love to compete and play well this weekend, really to kind of put a little icing on what's been a mediocre year,' McDowell said. 'Despite the fact that I feel like I've played some decent golf this year, I really don't have a lot to show for myself, and this would be a nice way to finish.'

Woods picked up easy birdie putts on the ninth and 10th, handling the par 5s without difficulty and getting to the top of the leaderboard. His momentum slowed with a bogey on the par-3 15th, and a par on the par-5 16th.

'I had a decent warm-up session, but the work I did last night was some of the best I've hit the golf ball all year,' Woods said. 'I just had to come out here and trust it, and when I did, I got into a nice little run there. I just need to do that all 36 holes on the weekend.'

Watney, who had a 67 on Thursday, fell apart late. His sand wedge from the middle of the fairway on the 16th landed over the green and kept right on going, leading to a bogey that felt like losing two shots to the field.

'Just a terrible way to finish, but we're only halfway through,' Watney said. 'So we'll see if we can make a charge at those guys in the morning.'

The Associated Press contributed to this article.