Choi seizes Chevron lead

2011-12-02 06:52

California - KJ Choi jumped out of the blocks then stayed steady in gusting winds on Thursday to seize the first-round lead of the Chevron World Challenge, three shots ahead of tournament host Tiger Woods.

Choi birdied the first five holes at the par-72, 7,052-yard Sherwood Country Club course.

The South Korean veteran then held on as the blustery winds picked up, with unpredictable gusts of up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph), to finish at six-under 66, with Woods and fellow American Steve Stricker sharing second on 69.

Sherwood, in rolling hills west of Los Angeles, missed the worst of the winds that battered southern California on Thursday, leaving more than 300 000 without power, creating traffic chaos and forcing school closures in some areas.

"I think it's a blessing that the wind wasn't as strong as they forecast," Choi said. "I mean, if the winds really start to pick up at 40, 50 miles per hour (64-80 kph), we can't really play. So it's a blessing that it wasn't that strong."

The conditions made for a difficult day of golf, however. None of the 18 players in the field made it around without a bogey.

"It was tough just to grab the right club and commit to the shot because the wind was all over the place," said Stricker, who joined playing partner Woods on 69 with a 40-foot birdie putt at 18.

"KJ's playing an amazing round because he's got most of it in the wind," said Woods, who played three groups in front of Choi and took advantage of the calm early conditions to birdie four of his first five holes.

"For him to play that well that early and then keep it going is one hell of a round."

Choi, whose 2011 US PGA Tour season featured a career-high eight top 10s -- including a victory at The Players Championship - said he gets plenty of practice playing in the wind in Dallas, where he has a US home.

"I'm used to practising in those conditions. I've become very comfortable in those windy conditions," Choi said. "My mindset was just to try and make par and try to be patient."

Woods, the 14-time major champion who hasn't won in more than two years, finished with six birdies and three bogeys and said the conditions offered little chance to assess the state of his game.

"It was hard to tell anything out there because it was just dancing all over the place," said Woods, who arrived in California confident that he could continue the solid form he displayed in a fortnight of competition in Australia.

After back-to-back bogeys at 15 and 16 dropped him to two-under, Woods smacked in a birdie putt at 17 to get back to three-under. Had it missed, he said, it would have gone several feet past.

"Thank God it went in," Woods said.

Americans Nick Watney, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler were tied on 71, the only other players to break par.

American Matt Kuchar got as low as four-under but was undone by a triple-bogey eight at the par-five 16th en route to an even par 72.

Australian Jason Day was three-under through 15 before back-to-back double-bogeys at 16 and 17. Nursing a sore right thumb after playing out of the trees at 17, he closed with a bogey that left him two-over.

Given the potential for disaster on the day, Woods was more than satisfied with his position.

"Anything under par is a good day today(Thursday)," he said.

First-round scores here on Thursday in the $5 million Chevron World Challenge golf tournament (USA unless noted, par-72):

66 - K.J. Choi (KOR)

69 - Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker

71 - Nick Watney, Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler

72 - Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan

73 - Gary Woodland, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson

74 - Jason Day (AUS), Bo Van Pelt

75 - Bubba Watson

76 - Keegan Bradley

77 - Martin Laird (SCO)

78 - Bill Haas

79 - Paul Casey (ENG)