THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- By his own admission, Tiger Woods wasn't sharp Thursday in the first round of the World Challenge Presented by Northwestern Mutual. But he scrambled his way to a 2-under-par 70 at Sherwood Country Club and is tied for fifth, three strokes behind leader Nick Watney.
"I kept myself in the tournament," said Woods, the host and defending champion. "I could have easily shot myself out of it."
Woods was paired with Steve Stricker on a damp day, and players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in their own fairway due to overnight rain. Even with preferred lies, Woods wasn't surprised someone in the elite 18-player field didn't go low.
"It's still difficult out there," he said. "The wind is puffing around and it's all different directions. The greens are soft, and it's hard to get the ball close. There's so much pitch on these greens that it's hard not to rip the ball back."
At the short, par-4 first hole, Tiger hit a perfect tee shot and had only 60 yards to the pin. He clipped a sand wedge that took two hops and checked, then slid back down a slope towards the hole, the ball stopping about six feet away. Woods couldn't convert and settled for a par.
At the 531-yard, par-5 second, Tiger hit another good drive and went for the green in two with a fairway wood. With water guarding the front-left portion of the long, slender putting surface, he flushed a nice shot that caught the fringe, pin-high to the right. From there, he hit a delicate pitch two feet from the cup and made birdie.
Woods nearly holed a long downhill putt for birdie at the 198-yard, par-3 third, then made a terrific save at the 456-yard, par-4 fourth. After laying well back off the tee, his approach shot wound up 20 yards short of the green. Faced with a tough third shot to the back-left pin placement, Tiger gave it plenty of thought and visualization, then executed a mini-flop shot perfectly off a tight lie, almost holing out for a birdie.
At the 531-yard, par-5 fifth, which doglegs left up a hill, Woods found trouble off the tee, pulling his ball into dirt and leaves and was blocked by a large oak tree. Tiger tried to hook his second shot to a good lay-up position short of the hill, but the ball flew straight and finished under another large oak tree. Somehow, he found an opening and punched his third shot just short of the green.
"He's not a real human," said an obviously impressed spectator.
Woods misjudged the slow, chip-and-run shot and left it 15 feet short of the hole. Naturally, he drained the par putt.
"I kind of slapped it all around the hole and somehow made par," he said."
Tiger two-putted the next two holes for pars, then tackled the tough 228-yard, downhill, par-3 eighth. Both he and Stricker missed the green to the right and faced touchy uphill chips from wet rough. Tiger did well to pop his within four feet of the cup but missed his par attempt.
At the downhill, 422-yard, par-4 ninth, Woods gave himself a good birdie look from about 20 feet beneath the hole, but the putt refused to fall and he settled for a par to make the turn in even-par 36.
Tiger hit a nice approach shot at the 359-yard, par-4 10th, leaving a nine-foot birdie putt, but couldn't capitalize. He did bounce back with a birdie at the 517-yard, par-5 11th, then two-putted the 192-yard, par-3 12th from 20 feet for a par.
At the 568-yard, par-5 13th, Woods two-putted for a birdie from about 30 feet below the pin. He followed with a two-putt par at the 455-yard, par-4 14th.
Moving to the treacherous 184-yard, downhill, par-3 15th, protected by water short and right, Tiger pulled his tee shot high up on a grassy hill left of the green. Faced with an awkward downhill lie and stance, Woods hit a wonderful sand wedge 15 feet beyond the hole -- the ball could have gone anywhere, including the water -- and capped a brilliant recovery by making the par putt, forcing a smile.
The 563-yard, par-5 16th hole is reachable in two, but has given Tiger problems in the past. It tightens up near the green and requires an accurate second or third shot. Woods hit a good drive and went for the green, but pulled his second shot into a big tree just left of the green and the ball bounced backwards.
"I was trying to hit a low fade, land it short of that tree and run it on the green," said Woods. "And unfortunately it carried slightly into the tree."
With limbs blocking his downhill third shot to the green, Tiger came up well short in heavy grass, then gouged a sand wedge 10 feet below the cup. Once again, Woods rose to the occasion, rolling in the putt for a clutch par save.
"I made a few good par putts to keep the round going," he said.
Tiger two-putted the 166-yard, uphill par-3 17th for a par, just missing his birdie try from 16 feet above the hole. At the 444-yard, par-4 18th, he split the fairway with a fairway wood, then knocked his second shot about 25 feet above the pin. Woods two-putted for a par.
Tiger, gunning for his sixth win in the tournament, tees off Friday at 1:33 p.m. ET with Bo Van Pelt. There is no cut in the elite 18-player field. Proceeds benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation.