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With putting the focus, Watney takes early lead at World Challenge

DHS graduate Nick Watney acknowledges the crowd after a birdie on the 18th hole to end the first round of the World Challenge on Thursday. After one round, Watney was the tournament leader. AP photo

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From page B1 | November 30, 2012 |

THOUSAND OAKS — Sure enough, putting was all the rage Thursday in the World Challenge, one day after golf’s governing bodies proposed a new rule that will ban the anchored stroke used for long putters.

Keegan Bradley even got so fed up with the teasing over his belly putter this week that he grabbed Tiger Woods’ putter and made three out of four from 10 feet.

The rule doesn’t affect Nick Watney, though he couldn’t say enough about his putting. The Davis High graduate made five birdies on his last 10 holes — including his first birdie ever on the 14th hole at Sherwood — for a 5-under 67 that gave him a two-shot lead.

Woods’ putts saved his round, even though most of them were for par. That included a 12-foot putt on the 15th and an 8-footer to avoid bogey on the par-5 16th. It added up to a 70, which left him very much in the hunt at an 18-man event where he is more than just a tournament host. Without a title sponsor, Woods is underwriting most of the cost.

And yes, even Steve Stricker made news Thursday with his putter. He tried a new one.

“Mid-life crisis,” he said.

The World Challenge is not a hit-and-giggle at the end of the year, even with a short field, no cut and lots of holiday cash for all involved. 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 Watney from Brandt Snedeker, who brought up the rear with a 75.

Snedeker drilled a fairway metal into eight 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.

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.

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