THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Zach Johnson already is looking ahead to next year, and one of his priorities is to score better on the par 5s. He got started on that Thursday in the World Challenge.
Johnson birdied four of the five par 5s on a chilly afternoon at Sherwood Country Club, sending him to 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar. They were among five players in the elite 18-man field to break par.
One of them was tournament host Tiger Woods, who used a new driver and missed only two fairways. The problem was his putter. Woods opened by missing a short par putt and finished by missing a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th. He shot 71.
Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson were at 70. They are among seven players who have yet to win a tournament anywhere in the world this year, though all 18 players in the World Challenge are in the top 30 in the world ranking.
The tournament counts toward the ranking, though everything else about it is unofficial.
"A highlight that we're looking into next year is trying to play those holes a little bit better," Johnson said. "I don't know what I did today. I hit it close. I had good shots in there with the proper spin, nothing more than that. But you've got to take advantage of them. You've got five of them. The thing is … one errant shot, you're staring a 6 right in the face, if not more. There's a lot of penal areas."
Steve Stricker was among those under par until a bogey-bogey-double bogey finish put him at 75. Jordan Spieth, coming off a sensational rookie season and playing for the first time since the HSBC Champions in Shanghai a month ago, shot 77 and was last in the field. Jason Day, who won the individual and team title at the World Cup two weeks ago at Royal Melbourne, shot 76.
Rory McIlroy, with girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki following him, hoped to build momentum from his first win of the year last week in the Australian Open. He missed a few short putts, found the water on the par-3 15th and shot 73.