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Zach Johnson takes 5-under lead in Sherwood's swan song

THOUSAND OAKS, California -- Zach Johnson already is looking ahead to next year, and one of his priorities is to score better on the par 5s. He got started on that Thursday in the World Challenge.

Johnson birdied four of the five par 5s on a chilly afternoon at Sherwood Country Club, sending him to a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar. They were among only five players in the elite 18-man field who broke par.

One of them was tournament host Tiger Woods, who had a new driver in the bag and missed only two fairways. The problem was his putter. Woods opened his round by missing a short par putt, and he finished it by missing a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th. He wound up with a 71.

Kuchar played with Woods — they were partners at the Presidents Cup — and hit his approach into 2 feet for birdie on the final hole.

Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson were at 70. They are among seven players who have yet to win a tournament anywhere in the world this year, even though all 18 players in the World Challenge are in the top 30 in the world ranking.

The tournament counts toward the ranking, though everything else about it is unofficial. For some players, it's a time to shake off some rust and test new equipment. For others, it's the end of a long year.

Johnson had his annual “summit” with his team of coaches at the start of the week. They go over the year, crunch statistics and lay out goals for where to improve in 2014. One of the areas was par-5 scoring.

“A highlight that we're looking into next year is trying to play those holes a little bit better,” Johnson said. “I don't know what I did that today. I hit it close. I had good shots in there with the proper spin, nothing more than that. But you've got to take advantage of them. You've got five of them. The thing is ... one errant shot, you're staring a 6 right in the face, if not more. There's a lot of penal areas.”

There was plenty of punishment for some players in the field.

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Tiger Woods and Matt Kuchar, along with their caddies, walk across a bridge to get to the green on the second hole during the first round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California on Thursday, Dec. 5. (AP)

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