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Tiger plays rust-free until end; Furyk leads

Tiger Woods
Robert Laberge/Getty Images
Woods finished the first round with a 3-under 69.

THOUSAND OAKS, California (AP) — Tiger Woods had to take inventory when he teed off in the Target World Challenge, things he rarely does at any golf tournament.

"We haven't done this in a while,'' he said, recounting a conversation with his caddie. "Am I forgetting anything? Do we have enough tees, balls? Do we have 14 clubs? OK, we're all good.''

It had been 74 days since Woods last struck a competitive shot, a chip that he nearly holed in his last chance to avoid losing to Mike Weir in Sunday singles at the Presidents Cup. He has been raising money for his foundation and the Tiger Woods Learning Center, relaxing at home and on his yacht with his family, doing promotional work with Nike.

Back to the golf, it wasn't all bad.

Woods birdied the first two holes, saved par three times with putts between 6 and 10 feet, and was on his way to a comfortable lead at Sherwood Country Club until he forgot one thing: how to finish.

"Hit a bad tee shot, pulled my second shot just a touch and made 6,'' Woods said of his double bogey on the 18th hole, sending him to a 69 and in a pack of four players who were one shot behind Jim Furyk.

This is the final tournament of the silly season, the final week of golf for 2007. It's a money-grab for the 16 players at Sherwood competing for $5.75 million. It was competitive, although meaningless.

But with one round, Thursday was another example of what the PGA Tour has to contend with in Woods.

He looked fairly sharp for someone coming off the longest unforced break of his career, mixing up the trajectory of tee shots and iron shots depending on what the hole required. The rust came in his short game, especially two simple pitches that he hit poorly enough to cost him easy chances at birdie on two par 5s on the back nine.

"It could have realistically been 7-under par without being all that stressed out,'' Woods said.

Stress is a rare commodity - or should be - at the Target World Challenge. Far more prevalent is the rust, especially for those who have not played much golf in the last month or so.

Furyk hasn't played since he traveled from South Korea to Bermuda for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on Oct. 17, passing up a trip to South Africa for the Nedbank Challenge because he didn't want a long trip to affect nagging neck injuries.

A shaky tee shot on the opening hole, and a bogey at No. 10, was as bad as it got.

Furyk was steady as ever, a pleasant surprise, and a birdie on the final hole eventually put him in the lead at 68. It was the third time he has held at least a share of the first-round lead at the Target World Challenge, a tournament he has yet to win.

"I've worked pretty hard the last few weeks to get my game in shape, so it was nice to come out and knock some rust off,'' Furyk said. "Hopefully, I'll keep improving and feel more comfortable with my game.''

Joining Woods at 69 was Masters champion Zach Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Rory Sabbatini, three guys who have at least been playing some golf. Johnson was at the Merrill Lynch Shootout last week, Sabbatini was in Australia, Stenson has been all over the map.

For the Swede who lives in Dubai, there is no offseason.

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