K.J. Choi birdied his opening five holes then held on in 50kph gusts for a six-under 66 that gave him a three-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker at the Chevron World Challenge on Thursday.
Woods looked as good as he did in Australia, making his fourth birdie with a three-iron to an elevated green on the par-five fifth that covered the flag in the foothills of Sherwood Country Club.
Choi, Woods and Stricker were the only players to break 70 in the 18-man field in the final official event in the US this year.
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.
The notorious Santa Ana wind was in the forecast, with some projections of 100kph gusts.
However, 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 three-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 two-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. A new rule that would eliminate the penalty stroke if the wind moved the ball is not effective until Jan. 1.