Woods near top at gusty Chevron
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - K.J. Choi opened with five straight birdies. Tiger Woods looked as good as he did in Australia, making his fourth birdie with a 3-iron to an elevated green on the par-5 fifth that covered the flag.
And then, without warning, the wind showed up yesterday in the foothills of Sherwood Country Club.
Choi held his own in gusts up to 30 miles per hour and finished with a 6-under-par 66, giving him a three-shot lead over Woods and Steve Stricker in the Chevron World Challenge.
They were the only three players to break 70 in the 18-man field in the final official event in America this year.
“Anything under par is a good day today with the wind up,’’ said Woods, a four-time winner of this event and the tournament host. “If the wind stayed down, you’re going to have to shoot probably 68 or below for it to be a good score.’’
Five of the six players who broke par - Jim Furyk, Nick Watney, and Rickie Fowler were at 71 - had most recently played at blustery Royal Melbourne in the Presidents Cup.
Choi figures he had even a greater advantage. He lives in Dallas.
“I was used to playing in the windy conditions, not only playing in Melbourne, but also living in Dallas, where there’s 20- to 30-mile wind every other day,’’ Choi said. “I’m used to practicing in those conditions. I’ve become very comfortable in those windy conditions.’’
The notorious Santa Ana wind was in the forecast, with some projections of 60-m.p.h. gusts.
But when the elite field arrived at Sherwood, there was not even a breeze. Woods and Stricker birdied the opening two holes with relative ease. Woods added another birdie on No. 4 with a 25-foot putt, and then came his 3-iron from 229 yards to 18 feet for an eagle attempt that burned the edge.
He was standing on the sixth green, 15 feet behind the hole, when a big gust backed Woods off his putt and scattered leaves raced across the fairway behind him.
On the next hole, Stricker was staring over an iron shot that was drawing right at the flag. A strong gust swatted the ball out of the sky and dropped it 20 feet short of the green into the deep rough.
Watney was motoring along at 2 under when he had a birdie putt on the 14th. He addressed the ball, backed off, and watched it move, costing him a one-shot penalty.
Woods was in control of his irons, and even when he did miss off the tee, it wasn’t by much.
“It looks like he’s getting a lot of confidence back again,’’ Stricker said. “It looks like the Tiger of old, really, and it’s great to see.’’