There may only be 18 players in the field for the 2012 World Challenge, but this year-end PGA Tour event founded by none other than Tiger Woods has a plethora of star power and world rankings points at stake.
After a surging finish to Day 1 at Sherwood Country Club, Nick Watney leads the field of marquee names after firing a five-under 67 that included four birdies over his last six holes.
Despite hitting his first 17 greens, Keegan Bradley didn't score as well as he could have due to relatively poor putting. Still, the 2011 PGA champion and Ryder Cup stud sits tied at three-under par with Graeme McDowell—who beat Tiger in a 2010 playoff at this event—and Jim Furyk.
Only one shot further back is Woods, reigning U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson and Bo Van Pelt, who has enjoyed yet another solid year.
The fact that the field is so small and a relatively large sum of world ranking points is on the line seems a little bit unfair to those who weren't invited to play, but it only adds to the intrigue. Also interesting is the belly putter debate, as they have been due to be banned in 2016, although the PGA of America disagrees and will address the issue on Wednesday (h/t Golf.com).
Major champions such as Bradley and Simpson are sure to come under fire for their use of such clubs, and after the round Bradley felt he had an "X" on his back in light of the recent ruling, deeming it unfair.
If a long-putting player wins this week, expect the debate to only heighten. Hopefully, though, it does not overshadow what will otherwise be an entertaining event on the course.
Here is a look at the top 10 names on the leaderboard, highlights and more after Thursday's play:
|1||Nick Watney ||-5|
|T2||Keegan Bradley ||-3|
|T2||Graeme McDowell ||-3|
|T2||Jim Furyk ||-3|
|T5||Tiger Woods ||-2|
|T5||Webb Simpson ||-2|
|T5||Bo Van Pelt ||-2|
|T8||Bubba Watson ||-1|
|T8||Jason Day ||-1|
|T8||Hunter Mahan ||-1|
(To view the full leaderboard, check out PGATour.com)
Graeme McDowell hits his approach from about 130 yards out on the par-four 10th hole to tap-in distance. It was the first of four birdies on the day for the Northern Ireland native, as he wound up with a stellar round of 69.
After coming up short of the green in two on No. 5, Keegan Bradley hit a nifty bump-and-run shot and nearly jarred it for an eagle three on the par-five. That marked his second consecutive birdie in his first-round 69, and a rare spot of bother around the greens for Bradley in what was a superb day of ball-striking.
The roller-coaster round of the day goes to American young gun Rickie Fowler, who made several big numbers but also showed resilience by making a bundle of birdies. His last of six birds on the day came on No. 17, a par-three, where the 23-year-old boldly rolled in a long-distance putt. An unfortunate bogey at the last hole pushed Fowler back to one-over, six back of the lead.
Nike Golf was proud to document the presence of one of their marquee names in another sport spectating in the grandstands—Los Angeles Clippers PG Chris Paul:
Golf (@nikegolf) November 29, 2012
Signing Rory McIlroy to a monster deal, getting Paul to do some in-state promotion...Nike can do no wrong lately it seems.
Frequently outspoken Englishman Ian Poulter has one of the most prominent Twitter accounts in the golfing world, and was at it again before he took to the course on Thursday:
Just in the gym warming the body up for 1st round of Tiger World Challenge. Been up since 4.30 oh joy of jet lag.— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) November 29, 2012
Apparently the travel effects got to the Team Europe Ryder Cup hero, although Poulter did birdie two of the final three holes to salvage a one-over round of 73.
Finally, Golf Channel senior writer Jason Sobel put into perspective just how gaudy the purse is at the World Challenge this week compared to those players grinding for their Tour lives at qualifying school's final stage:
First place in this week's 172-player Q-School field will earn $50,000. Last place in 18-player World Challenge field will receive $120,000.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) November 27, 2012
Even if FedEx Cup winner Brandt Snedeker continues to rock last place by himself, he will still take home a hefty paycheck.