California - Nick Watney, trying to keep the momentum of his recent Malaysian victory going into 2013, seized a two-shot lead Thursday in the World Challenge invitational hosted by Tiger Woods.
Watney, who finished last in the field of 18 in this unofficial event last season, had five birdies in his bogey-free, five-under 67 at Sherwood Country Club and was two strokes in front of Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk.
Bradley hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation, his only miscue of the day a bogey at 18. The American, whose 2011 PGA Championship triumph made him the first player to win one of golf's major titles using a long putter anchored on his midriff, admitted he was fired up by the reaction to the announcement on Wednesday by global governing bodies the Royal & Ancient and the US Golf Association that they proposed to ban the technique in 2016.
"I've been catching such flak on Twitter and these other places, it would be good to kind of quiet them a little bit," Bradley said.
He was pleased to have a chance to show there was more to his game than the long putter.
"I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application in to Burger King for 2016," Bradley said of the type of blasts he's been getting via Twitter, although he added he'd had support on the social networking site and from the Southern California galleries as well.
Bradley said he felt the timing by the R&A and USGA, with no actual rule change anticipated until 2016, put him and others who "anchor" putters to their bodies when they putt in a difficult position since for now it remains legal.
"I feel like the USGA has really put an X on our back," he said. "I don't know if that's exactly fair.
"When we started putting with it, they were legal and they still are. It's a sticky situation and I hope people can see through that."
Watney was sympathetic. He feels "anchoring" provides some advantage, although he stressed that "I don't think they're cheating by any means".
"It's difficult to go back and institute a rule now," said Watney, who uses a conventional putter. "I don't have to worry about it."
His concern is to build on the gains he made late in 2012 after a slow start to the season.
In August, Watney erased a two-shot final-round deficit to win The Barclays, the opening event in the US PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs.
Last month in Malaysia, he shot an electrifying final-round 61 to win the $6.1 million CIMB Classic, holding off Woods and defending champion Bo Van Pelt.
Although the atmosphere at this unofficial event is more laid back, Watney said, "winning never gets old".
"Me personally, I'm trying to use it to prepare for next season."
Watney, who said the cool, overcast conditions made for a nice change from the sweltering weather in Malaysia, nabbed his first birdie of the day at the ninth.
Birdies at the par-five 13th and par-four 14th were followed by birdies at the par-five 16th and 18.
McDowell had four birdies and one bogey -- all on the back nine -- for his share of second place on 69, while Furyk bounced back from an early bogey with four birdies on the back nine to get to three-under.
Woods, who hosts the event for the benefit of his charitable foundation, was tied for fifth on 70, alongside Van Pelt and US Open champion Webb Simpson.
Woods won here last year to end a two-year global victory drought, then won three US PGA Tour titles in 2012.
However, the tournament host admitted he'd need to hit it better as the week progressed.
"I didn't hit it very good today," said Woods, who had three birdies and just one bogey. "It was nice to scrape out a good score."
"Made a few good par putts to keep the round going," he added. "I kept myself in the tournament."
First-round scores on Thursday in the $4 million World Challenge golf tournament (USA unless noted, par-72):
67 - Nick Watney
69 - Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell (NIR), Jim Furyk
70 - Bo Van Pelt, Tiger Woods, Webb Simpson
71 - Jason Day (AUS), Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson
73 - Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter (ENG)
74 - Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson
75 - Brandt Snedeker