Z. Johnson fires 67 for early World Challenge lead


After a frost delay pushed back tee times Thursday morning, the limited field of 18 participants was finally able to begin play at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge. Here's how things look after the first round, where Zach Johnson set the early pace with a 5-under 67:

Leaderboard: Zach Johnson (-5), Matt Kuchar (-4), Bubba Watson (-2), Hunter Mahan (-2), Tiger Woods (-1), Graeme McDowell (Even)

What it means: Despite a closing bogey, Johnson was able to distance himself somewhat from the pack and will take a one-shot lead into the second round. A runner-up at this event in 2011, Johnson is no stranger to success at Sherwood Country Club, and it showed during an opening round that included seven birdies.

Round of the day: Johnson began his round with a pair of birdies, but then stalled somewhat across the balance of the front nine and was just 1 under when he made the turn. From there, though, the former Masters champion caught fire with five birdies across his next seven holes to break out from a logjam atop the leaderboard. Though he dropped a shot at the closing hole, his 67 was still good enough to set the pace after the first round.

Best of the rest: Kuchar's round was more turbulent than most, but at the end of the day it added up to a 4-under 68 that will have him in the final pairing Friday. The former Players champion carded five birdies in his opener, and saw his round highlighted by an eagle at the par-5 11th. After making his third bogey of the day at No. 17, Kuchar bounced back at the home hole, placing his approach to within three feet to cut into Johnson's lead heading into the second round.

Biggest disappointment: It's an amazing accomplishment that he's even in this week's field, but Jordan Spieth had all sorts of struggles in Thursday's opening round. The 20-year-old notched a triple-bogey 7 at the fourth hole and added a pair of double bogeys en route to a 5-over 77 that has him staring up at each of the other 17 players in the field through one round. Spieth was able to record three birdies, but it wasn't enough to erase the dreaded "others" from his card, and he now finds himself 10 shots off the pace.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Johnson is certainly comfortable with the lead, but it will be interesting to see how two of his closest competitors fare in the second round. Watson has struggled for much of 2013 and could be in position to change the perception of his year with a win this week, while tournament host Woods will look to overcome an opening round that featured strong play tee-to-green but a bevy of missed opportunities on the putting surface.

Quote of the day: "I putted good and I wedged it great. When I had a wedge in my hand, it seemed like I had a birdie opportunity every time." - Johnson, who carded seven birdies during his opening 67.