Graeme McDowell hits an approach shot at No. 18 on Friday during the second… (Bret Hartman / Associated…)
After the opening round of the World Challenge, Graeme McDowell predicted no one would run away with the tournament and that, instead, there would be a shootout over the weekend.
Perhaps, but McDowell moved away from the field Friday as the 2010 U.S. Open winner from Northern Ireland shot a six-under-par 66 to seize a three-shot lead at nine under.
McDowell's closest pursuers are Keegan Bradley, Bo Van Pelt and Jim Furyk, another former World Challenge winner, at six under.
The 18-player event at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks benefits Tiger Woods' charities, and Woods was four shots behind McDowell after shooting a three-under 69.
Although the course was soggy and the players had to contend with intermittent showers, "I certainly hit the ball a lot better than I did yesterday," Woods said.
Furyk, who also shot 69, said there was "a lot of standing water" on the course "so hopefully we get a little bit of a dry night and give it a chance to dry up a little bit." But more rain was forecast for the weekend.
Woods has won the World Challenge five times, and he nearly won it again in 2010 but lost in a playoff to McDowell. That was McDowell's last victory in any tournament.
A year earlier, in 2009, McDowell played in his first World Challenge as a last-minute replacement for Woods, who had abruptly withdrawn after a Thanksgiving night car accident that eventually led to the sensational scandal over his extramarital affairs.
On Friday, McDowell wasted no time charging to the front with birdies on the first three holes. He finished with seven birdies and one bogey in pursuit of the $1-million first prize.
McDowell, 33, said that although "I've certainly got my small, little cushion" after two rounds, he planned to stay aggressive because "I believe someone will go low [under par] this weekend."
Woods briefly was tied for the lead on the back nine before McDowell pulled ahead. Woods sank an eight-foot birdie putt on the par-five 11th hole, then hit his approach on the par-five 13th to within three feet of the cup to set up another birdie.
First-round leader Nick Watney found trouble with bogeys on the 16th and 18th holes, which left him with a one-over 73 for the round and tied with Rickie Fowler at four under for the tournament.
"Definitely a little sloppy today," Watney said. "Just a terrible way to finish."
Fowler, a Murrieta native and flamboyant dresser who turns 24 on Dec. 13, had an eagle at the par-five second hole on his way to a five-under 67.
Zach Johnson, who lost the tournament by one shot to Woods last year, also had a strong round going and was five under through 15 holes. But the 2007 Masters champion made a triple-bogey eight on No. 16 after one of his shots landed in a creek, leaving him with a 70 for the day and even par overall.