THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Nick Watney is playing well in any kind of weather.
Watney made birdie for the first time ever on the 14th hole at Sherwood during a strong back nine that carried him to a 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead Thursday in the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual. Watney won a month ago in stifling conditions in Malaysia. This day was cool and overcast, with fog rolling off the foothills. No matter. He did well enough to surge ahead.
Snedeker drilled a fairway metal into 8 feet and made eagle on the 11th hole, only for his round to fall apart. He hit two provisional tee shots on the par-3 12th, didn't have to use them but still made bogey, and then he snap-hooked his next tee shot and made double bogey.The field is stronger than ever, with 13 players from the Ryder Cup, and it showed in the scores. On a cool, overcast day in the Conejo Valley, only eight shots separated the top (Watney) from Brandt Snedeker, bringing up the rear with a 75.
Bradley and a pair of past champions at this tournament -- Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell -- were two shots out of the lead at 69. Woods was in the group at 70 that included Bo Van Pelt, whom Woods beat this year at Congressional, and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.
ROUND 1 NOTES
• Nick Watney carded a bogey-free 5-under 67 on Thursday to take a two-stroke lead over Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell and Keegan Bradley after the first round of the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual.
• Watney is making his third World Challenge start, finishing 13th in 2010 and 18th in 2011. His opening-round 67 is just his second score in the 60s in nine rounds at the World Challenge, equaling his second-round score in 2010.
• Watney's 2012 season included a fourth-place finish in the FedExCup standings. He posted victories at The Barclays and CIMB Classic.
• In the 13 previous playings of the World Challenge, the first-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win just two times (Davis Love III in 2003 and Tiger Woods in 2004).
• Keegan Bradley (69) hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday, which would equal his PGA TOUR best (17/18 during the second round of the 2012 Travelers Championship).
• Tiger Woods' 70 represents just the third time in 12 starts at the World Challenge he has failed to open with a sub-70 score -- 2003 (71), 2005 (72), 2012 (70). His best score at the World Challenge is a second-round 62 in 2007.• Graeme McDowell owns a win (2010) and runner-up finish (2009) in his two World Challenge starts. He is off to another good start, opening Thursday with a 3-under 69.
• Woods (2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2011), McDowell (2010) and Furyk (2009) are the only former champions of the World Challenge in the field this year.
• Woods is seeking his 10th top-2 finish in 12 starts at this event. He finished 10th in 1999 and T14 in 2005.
• Two players are competing in their first World Challenge, 2012 FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker (75) and Jason Dufner (73).
• Bo Van Pelt birdied five of his last six holes en route to a 2-under 70.
• Scoring Averages at the par-72 Sherwood Country Club:
• Last year's opening-round scoring average was 72.944.
• The toughest hole on Thursday was the par-3 third hole, with a stroke average of 3.333. From the field of 18, the hole surrendered 14 pars, three bogeys and one other.
• Sherwood Country Club's easiest hole in the first round was the par-5 11th, yielding a 4.444 average.
• World Challenge leader Nick Watney (67) managed the only bogey-free round on Thursday.