Watney Up by Two in World Challenge; Bradley Sounds off on Belly Putter Ban

Nick Watney fired a 5-under 67 to take the opening-round lead of the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual. The $4 million, 18-player event hosted by Tiger Woods started Thursday at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The 31-year-old from Sacramento, with five PGA Tour wins including a victory in late August at The Barclays, carded a birdie on the front nine then posted four more on the back to go up by two strokes over Keegan Bradley, Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk.

Watney owed his good start to a solid short game. "I putted great today," he said at greenside. "It's key around here because the greens are so fast . . . I'm happy to be on top."

"I played pretty well definitely on the back nine," Watney later told reporters. "The front nine was a bit - a little sloppy. But I mean, my short game is definitely where I need to improve for next year, so kind of been getting into that a little bit, and it helped me today. I hope for some more results like this next season, and I've never really done too well at this tournament unfortunately, so I've never really - I haven't even been in here actually, so it's good to be here."

Bradley posted two birdies on the outward half and two more coming home. His only dropped shot came on the par-4 closer at Sherwood. The 26-year-old Vermont native was also happy with his play. "I really struggled here last year, and it really felt good to go out there and get off to a good start," he said.

Besides a few questions about his play Thursday, the bulk of Bradley's after-round interview centered on Tuesday's decision by the USGA and R&A about the 2016 rules change that would ban belly putters, an implement the 26-year-old has used to great effect. With his win in the 2011 PGA Championship, Bradley became the first major winner to use an anchored putter.

"I just hope that people look at us for the type of players that we are and the accomplishments that we've had and not because we use a belly putter, and now the USGA says it's going to be illegal," said Bradley. "When we started putting with it, they were legal, and they still are. It's a sticky situation, and I hope people can see through that." (See below for his full post-round interview.)

McDowell, who recently announced he'll be getting married next year, hopes to continue his fine play in a tournament where he's enjoyed past success. "I've always enjoyed it," said the Northern Irishman. "I finished second here in 2009 and then won in 2010, so it's been a nice place to come and play golf. It just fits my eye. I think it's a golf course where you can keep it in the fairway off the tee, it offers you a lot of great birdie opportunities, and the greens are always fantastic here if you hit good putts generally they go in, even though I opened up with nine two‑putts today."

Bo Van Pelt, Woods and Webb Simpson - another major champion who uses a belly putter - all shot 70s to share fifth, while another stroke back were Jason Day, Hunter Mahan and 2012 Masters' champion Bubba Watson.

Woods managed to get around okay on a misty, overcast day in Southern California. "I didn't hit the ball very good today and made a few good par putts to keep the round going," he said. "I kept myself in the tournament. Could have easily shot myself out of the tournament but I kept myself in it."

Rounding out the leaderboard through 18 holes are Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker and Ian Poulter, who all shot 73s. Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson (no relation) had 74s, while Brandt Snedeker was in last place after a 75.

For complete scoring details, visit http://www.pgatour.com/leaderboards/current/r478/index.html.

On Wednesday, Snedeker - like Woods, a five-time winner of his tournament - confirmed his belief that golf's ruling bodies were correct in proposing the rules change about banning clubs anchored to the body.

After signing his scorecard, Bradley met with reporters to discuss his day and opine on the controversial ban of belly putters. Here's what he had to say.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Keegan Bradley into the interview room after a 3 under par 69. Keegan, great round of golf, just one tough break there on 18, but just comment on your day.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, today was awesome. I really struggled here last year, and it really felt good to go out there and get off to a good start. I did have a bad break on the last hole, but I played so solidly all day, that's the only green I missed. If I could have made a few more putts, I probably could have been a lot lower. I know people probably don't want to hear that. It was a good day, and I'll make a better swing on 18 tomorrow.

Q. I know you said that in jest, but was there a bit of motivation for you to play well, just what's gone on the last couple days and people talking about the putting and how you putt? Did it fire you up a bit?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, absolutely. It would be great to go off and really play well here and kind of - I've been catching such flak on Twitter and these other places, it would be good to kind of quiet them a little bit. I had a guy yesterday telling me to send my application in to Burger King for 2016. It always feels good to play well, but this feels better almost.

Q. When is the last time you putted with a regular putter, and can you show these guys - obviously people are kidding you, but you certainly grew up playing golf and played well, and so I imagine you don't want to change but now you have to change; you'll overcome it?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I used a conventional putter all through up until college, even a little into - I won my first professional event with a regular putter. It was just a matter of I just really liked the other putter better for me personally. It wasn't that I was a bad putter or any of that nonsense, but it'll be an adjustment, but it's one that I kind of look forward to, get to get up and know I've got to work hard, and that excites me.

Q. Some of that stuff I'm sure wasn't in jest; people can be pretty cruel. I'm just curious from your standpoint, do you think this is getting unfair in some ways, some of the backlash? Obviously what you've been doing is legal, it's been allowed forever, it's just now that it's going to be changed, you're going to have time to adapt.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I said after my round today to Golf Channel, I said, you know, I hope that people look at us - when I say us, guys who use a long putter or belly putter, look at us for the accomplishments and the players that we are, not look at us for using an unconventional putter. I feel like the USGA has really put an X on our back and really shined a light on us, and I don't know if that's exactly fair. You know, I just hope that people look at us for the type of players that we are and the accomplishments that we've had and not because we use a belly putter, and now the USGA says it's going to be illegal. When we started putting with it, they were legal, and they still are. It's a sticky situation, and I hope people can see through that.

Q. You talked about getting comments from people on Twitter and from other fans. What have the other players in the field said to you over the last 24 hours? Are they joking around or are they sympathetic?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: A lot of joking around, a lot of ribbing and - I finally had enough of it on the putting green the other day. I was putting with Tiger, and I grabbed Tiger's putter, and all of a sudden I see everyone start to walk around and start to look. I took his putter, which is about the opposite of what I putt with; it's upright, it's light, it's blade, and I made three out of four putts from 10 feet, so I made sure to remind those guys every time I see them that I made those putts.

Q. Do you think Tiger would make them with your putter?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: You don't want to see Tiger putt with that putter. If it was up to me, I'd film him and send that to Mike Davis, and I think he would take the ban off.

Q. If you continue to get some of these shots at you from fans on Twitter, would it make you try to switch over sooner?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: No. You know, I realize that Twitter and these type of things are going to be difficult on you because there's no face to them, so they can write whatever they'd like and they don't realize that I'm going to actually sit there and probably read the things. I've been doing a better job lately of not reading them, but I'm going to make a switch when I feel is best for me, and whether that's tomorrow or in three years, we'll see.

Q. What exactly was your ball up against on 18, that drive?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: It was literally resting up against a root, and then just to the right of it was a rock. You know, it was a bad break, but also if it didn't hit that root, it probably would have rolled all the way back down that hill. So bad breaks happen.

Q. Going back to the putting thing, you hit 17 greens, so I think you can play a little bit of golf, right?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, I mean, my putting stats are very average on Tour. They're about middle of the pack and everything. There's no statistical proof that proves that putting with these putters is better. That's all I can say. I mean, today I probably had 35 putts. I hit every green, I two putted a couple times for birdie. Only putts I made were tap ins basically. Just because you have it doesn't mean you're going to make every putt. I think that the public sees it like that, and that's unfair.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about just the conditions today and how the golf course played comparatively to maybe the last couple of days where it was a little firmer?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah. I love playing in this type of weather. This reminds me of home. It's very rare that we play in this. The course is wet, but there was a lot of back pins today, and it's tough to get to those pins. And also the greens seemed a little bit slower. I left a million putts short. But the course is in great shape. I think they made an excellent decision to play the ball up today, and you know, only - I think 3 or 4 under is leading, so the course is playing difficult.

Q. Two quick things on the putting issue: First, when you won the PGA, correct me if I'm wrong, there was not that big of a deal made of you being the first to win a major with a belly putter. I know it was mentioned, but it wasn't like it was a huge story line I don't believe, and I don't remember what you recall. And secondly, that week, was it a good ball striking week for you? Do you recall what actually won you the tournament, the way you hit it more than the putting?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Yeah, it wasn't a big issue at all. It was more of a passing comment. I thought it was going to be a bigger story, not in a negative way, I thought, I'm the first one to ever do this; it's pretty cool. But it wasn't. On that course in Atlanta you had to hit the ball well. I drove the ball phenomenally and played well, also putted well, especially on Sunday. But I remember when I first switched to it, I was at Wheatley Hills in New York, I was just out of college, and I was putting with a belly putter on the putting green, and every person went this is four or five years ago, this isn't that long ago came by and said you're too young to putt with that, you can't putt with that, it's ridiculous. Little did we know just four or five years later they'd ban the thing. Pretty ironic.

Q. You didn't have a choice in this, but do you sort of wish this would have broken when no golf tournaments were being played so you would have been home and not pestered?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: I'm a little surprised at the timing of the announcement. A little bit, yeah.

Q. Based on what you've said, would you feel more pressure then to win a major with a regular putter based on the comments you've received?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: Well, it would definitely feel really good. I've got to tell you that. It's stuff like this that happens to you in your career that actually can help you, motivate you. Throughout my whole career I didn't get really recruited, and no one thought I was any good, and it's kind of what motivated me. I'm going to try to use this as motivation, too, to try to just keep getting better, and I keep trying to tell myself, maybe this is a sign I'm going to switch to a better way of putting for me if it's possible. I'll try to look at the positives in everything.

Q. When you first picked up the belly putter four or five years ago, if you had known this ruling was coming, would you have put it back down and stayed with a short putter?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: That's a good question. I probably would have still used it, just like I'm still going to use it this year. It's kind of unfair because the USGA is saying it's illegal, and it's not for the next couple years. So it's like - it's a tough situation for us to be in. But you know, like I said, I'm going to do whatever is best for me and obviously obey the rules when it's time.

Q. You mentioned getting some nasty comments on Twitter. Just curious if any of the fans today or yesterday had said anything lighthearted or nasty.

KEEGAN BRADLEY: No. You know, for every bad comment there's also people being really nice. It just seems like - I played golf with Will Smith the actor one time, and I was talking to him about how he deals with the negative people and media, and he said that it doesn't matter how many great comments you get, you're going to focus on the bad ones. And for all those bad ones, there were still people being so great, saying you're going to be fine, you're going to still win, blah, blah, blah. So people are supportive out here. They're a lot less likely to say something bad to me in person than they are on Twitter. But for the most part people have been very nice.

Q. You referenced the putting green and Tiger, using his putter. Were you saying it would be hard for him or other - because the way your putter is, it's hard to get used to that putter, it's not like he was going to start making them right away; it's not like he's going to go out there and make everything with that putter?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: I don't know about Tiger; I don't want to get caught up in something like that. But it would be very difficult for somebody to take my putter and putt with it tomorrow, or Carl Pettersson or whatever. It takes practice.

Q. So that's the argument that it's not a cure?

KEEGAN BRADLEY: It's not a cure, no, it's definitely not.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.