THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Golf has been merely a hobby for Jim Furyk the last few months.
He has not played a competitive round since Oct. 15, when he crashed the PGA Grand Slam of Golf party in Bermuda as an alternate and beat the four-man field of major champions. His next meaningful round came 54 days later - and the rust was only a rumor.
Despite failing to make birdie on the five par 5s at Sherwood Country Club, and with mud from the soggy turf causing his ball to fly three directions off the face of his club, Furyk managed a 4-under 68 on Thursday to lead the Chevron World Challenge by two shots.
It would seem he is just getting back into the swing of golf. But after this event ends on Sunday, Furyk won't play again for nearly two months, not resurfacing until the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"My expectations weren't that high," he said.
Neither was his score.
Furyk birdied the 18th hole to build a two-shot lead over Boo Weekley and K.J. Choi, and only four other players in the 16-man field managed to break par in the opening round of the final golf tournament this year.
"I'm very happy to break 80 today," said Anthony Kim, one of those at 71.
That's what Tiger Woods used to say in his self-deprecating style, but the defending champion is sitting this one out. Woods has been reduced to the role of tournament host at this $5.75 million event, sitting through meetings, keeping warm and resurfacing on Sunday to hand someone the trophy and a seven-figure check.
Furyk started strong, but he was wary.
Most players arrived at Sherwood with a fair amount of rust, and the scores tend to get better as the week goes on.
"I think I see more 64s and 65s in this tournament probably in the second, third and fourth rounds than you do the first round," Furyk said. "That being said, my best round is always in the first round."
Even so, he was surprised to be leading with the only sub-70 score.
"The goal was obviously to come in and play well and try to win the golf tournament," Furyk said, "but as little as I've been playing, I wanted to just kind of get my feet wet and little by little, chip away and try to put a good round together."
The entire 16-man field got its feet wet at Sherwood, which was soggy from a week of cold rain.
Weekley was walking up the 11th fairway when he pulled up the bottom of his rain pants to reveal camouflage thermals to keep warm. He was heating up nicely until running into trouble on the par-5 16th, where he hit a fairway metal for his fourth shot and escaped with bogey.
Choi was flawless on the greens while working with a new caddie - Michael "Sponge" Waite, who worked for Michael Campbell when he won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Choi plans to use two caddies next year as his regular looper, Andy Prodger, takes time off.
The bizarre round belonged to Mike Weir, who offset his lone bogey with an eagle on the par-5 13th. It was a solid round of golf over 16 holes, but it was the two at the turn that sent him to the bottom of the pack - a triple bogey on the par-3 eighth hole, followed by a quadruple-bogey 8 on the next hole. He wound up with a 78, tied for last with fellow Canadian Stephen Ames.
Ryder Cup teammates Kim, Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and Vijay Singh were at 71, with Kim the most thrilled. He hasn't played since he was disqualified from the second round of the HSBC Champions in China in early November.
"It was all rust," he said. "I hit two shots that I've never hit in my life on 16 and 18. My go-to shot is a cut - the ball would not go right when I was setting up to the left."
One of them was left of the bunkers on the par-5 16th, going into the hazard and leading to a bogey. The other tee shot on the closing hole was so far off that it landed between generators.
"I told a couple of my buddies that breaking 80 was the goal today," Kim said. "So even though I bogeyed the 18th, I'm pretty happy."
Furyk didn't play golf for six weeks except for the odd corporate outing, spending most of his time going to Ohio State and Pittsburgh Steelers football games, and coaching his 5-year-old son's basketball team.
He tried to get in shape for this tournament, even with another big break on the other side.
"I felt like I needed to bridge the gap - play here and then take another seven weeks or so off," he said. "I just felt like the longer you wait, the more time it's going to take to get back. I also have pride. To just come out here and slap it around and shoot 78 every day and collect a check isn't fair to the sponsor and it's not fair to the tournament."