Johnson and Poulter set pace at sunny Sherwood

Updated: 2009-12-04 11:43

THOUSAND OAKS, California - Former Masters champion Zach Johnson charged into a share of the lead in the Chevron World Challenge first round on Thursday.

Johnson and Poulter set pace at sunny Sherwood
Zach Johnson of the U.S. tees off on the fifth hole during the first round of the Chevron World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California, December 3, 2009. [Agencies] 

In the absence of troubled tournament host Tiger Woods, the straight-hitting Johnson took advantage of ideal scoring conditions to fire a four-under-par 68 at Sherwood Country Club.

Johnson ended a day of dazzling sunshine and hardly any wind level with Britain's Ian Poulter, who held a two-shot lead over his 17 rivals in the elite field before double-bogeying the last.

Ireland's three-times major winner Padraig Harrington opened with a 69 to finish a stroke in front of Americans Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink and South Korean Yang Yong-eun.

"I wanted to come here fresh and that I am," Johnson told reporters after recording birdies on all four of the par-five holes. "I took 16 days off before I hit a ball after (the) Disney (Classic), and most of it was by choice. There were a couple of times I could have practised but I just didn't do it.

"My point this week is ... to get ready for the 2010 season and for me to work out," added the 33-year-old American, who clinched his first major title at the 2007 Masters.

"It's going well. I feel like my game is in a position good enough to win"

Poulter, feeling a little jaded after playing in Asia for the five previous weeks, was frustrated by his sloppy finish which featured a wild tee shot into trees and a three-putt on the 18th.


"It's four under par and I'm disappointed," said the Englishman who launched his round with a sizzling burst of five birdies in the first eight holes.

"Yeah I'm leading but I should have been way clear. I'm hitting my irons very, very well and I'm driving the ball in position. I'm giving myself a lot of chances.

"This is week six in a row for me so maybe a little bit of concentration slipping out there on the golf course might be the reason why I made three three-putts today."

Poulter, who won his eighth European Tour title at last month's Singapore Open, said he planned to get plenty of rest.

"Then I'll come out tomorrow, hit more good golf shots and attack the flags," he added. "That's what I did today, I was attacking the pins."

European number one and world number four Lee Westwood briefly held a share of the lead with Poulter at five under before dropping four shots in the last five holes for a 71.

The absence from Sherwood of 14-times major champion Woods, who pulled out of the event citing injuries from a car crash outside his Florida home last week, has been a major talking point for the fans this week and Johnson said the atmosphere on Thursday was noticeably different.

"I think there's less of a buzz, as chaotic as it really might be if he had been here," Johnson said.

"There's certainly less media here."