Nick Watney closed with birdies on four of his final six holes Thursday, giving him a two-shot lead after an opening 5-under 67 at the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual.
On the day after the U.S. Golf Association and R&A announced their intention to ban anchoring of putters, the World Challenge leaderboard was a mix of players who anchor and those who don't. Behind conventional-putting Watney, belly-putter users Keegan Bradley was tied for second, two shots behind, and fellow belly-putter wielder Webb Simpson was tied for fifth, three shots behind. Tiger Woods was also in the group at fifth.
A winner last month at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Watney began his round slowly with eight straight pars. A birdie on the ninth hole, though, led to four more on the back nine, and Watney was the only player in the limited field without a bogey in his opening round. He leads by two shots over Bradley, Jim Furyk and 2010 champion Graeme McDowell, who all carded 3-under 69s Thursday.
Serving as both host and defending champion, Woods opened with a 2-under 70 Thursday and will begin the second round in a share of fifth place alongside Bo Van Pelt and U.S. Open champion Simpson. Each of Woods' three opening-round birdies came on par-5 holes, and although he was able to pull within a shot of the lead after a birdie on the 13th hole, he would not gain any further ground Thursday.
Hunter Mahan grabbed the early lead with three birdies in his first six holes, but was derailed by a 3-over stretch across holes 9-10, ultimately settling for a 1-under 71 and a share of eighth place with Jason Day and Masters champion Bubba Watson.
In total, 10 of the 18 players in the field broke par in their opening round at Sherwood Country Club. A winner last month at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Ian Poulter recorded the day's most colorful scorecard with five birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey, placing him in a group at 1 over after 18 holes, six shots behind Watney. Reigning FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker also struggled Thursday, carding a 3-over 75 that left him trailing the rest of the field after one round.