THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) – Tiger Woods is still struggling to figure out the pace on the greens at Sherwood Country Club.

What helped him Friday in the Target World Challenge was the hole kept getting in the way.

Woods holed two long birdie putts on consecutive holes on his way to a 4-under 68 that turned a four-shot deficit into a one-shot lead over Henrik Stenson of Sweden going into the weekend of the final tournament of the year.

“Two lucky breaks,” said Woods, who was at 8-under 136 and in position to win his tournament for the third time in eight years.

Stenson had four birdies and one good hop that set up an eagle, but two holes dropped him to a 71 that left him at 7 under. U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy (70) and Chris DiMarco (68) were another shot behind.

Trailing by four shots as he approached the turn, Woods hammered a 40-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole that looked as thought it might go off the green until it banged into the back of the cup, went airborne and disappeared for birdie. One hole later, a birdie putt even longer was picking up steam when it found the bottom of the cup.

Fanny Sunesson, the caddie for Stenson, turned her back and smiled in disbelief when the putt on No. 10 dropped into the cup.

Stenson is more stoic, but having played a half-dozen times with Woods, he wasn’t terribly surprised.

“I think the putting and his trouble shots are probably the two things I admire the most in his game, and I know there’s always going to be one or two long ones finding the right line,” Stenson said. “He threw both at nine and 10. It’s no surprise anymore that he makes those kind of putts.”

Nor was it terribly surprising to see Woods in the lead in this 16-man field competing for $5.75 million.

He has won the Target World Challenge twice since it began eight years ago, and he has not finished worse than second in a stroke-play event since missing the cut at the U.S. Open in June.

Stenson doubled his lead to four shots after only two holes on another mild, sunny day at Sherwood. He hit wedge into 4 feet on the first hole and two-putted from 20 feet on the par-5 second, while Woods had to scramble for par and three-putted the second.

On the par-3 third, Stenson hit his tee shot into 6 feet to apply even more pressure, but Woods followed with a shot to 21/2 feet for birdie to slow the Swede’s momentum.

Woods was lucky to avoid bogey on the par-5 fifth when he hit into the trees and had no choice but to play 30 yards backward toward the fairway. He had only 260 yards to the green, chose to lay up, then hit a wedge that caromed off the flag and into the rough. Woods slung his wedge so hard that it toppled his bag, proving that the silly season can take on a serious tone.

To finish off that strange sequence, he chipped in for par.

Asked if he ever thought about aiming away from the flag, Woods said he was “not as good as Moe,” that would be Canadian ball-striker Moe Norman, not good buddy Mark O’Meara.

Stenson thought he had some luck on his side at the par-5 11th, after enduring those back-to-back birdies from Woods.

His 3-wood came up short of the bunker, somehow popped out the other side, then streaked across the green to 10 feet beyond the hole, which set up an eagle to restore his lead to three shots.

“And then I just hit probably the worst shot of the day,” Stenson said.

He missed the 12th green to the right, took two chips to reach the green and two putts to finish his double bogey. Woods took the lead for the first time on No. 13, his only birdie on a par 5.

Stenson squandered another opportunity on the 16th when he missed the green to the left, and his chip went through the green and into a bunker. He missed a 5-foot par putt, which gave Woods his one-shot lead.

Ogilvy got a big break with a bad drive on the 13th, the ball landing among scrub brush and sand, but close enough to the cart path that he was able to get free relief. He blasted out, hit his third shot to a foot and walked off with a birdie.

Twelve of the 16 players were under par, although separation was starting to occur.

Paul Casey made four birdies over his final six holes to shoot 70, putting him at 5-under 139. John Daly missed a couple of short putts in his round of 71 that put him at 4-under 140, along with Jose Maria Olazabal.

Adam Scott again struggled on the eighth green. One day after a five-putt for a quadruple-bogey 7, he missed the green and took three putts on his way to a triple bogey. The Aussie shot 80 and was in last place.

“I’m made some improvement,” he said of his adventures on the eighth.

Divots: Woods said his best Christmas gift was hearing his father tell him “Merry Christmas” last year. He said he had been up three days and hadn’t slept and finally passed out on the floor watching TV. “He threw his shoe at me and said, ‘Merry Christmas,”‘ Woods said. “I knew it was the last time he’d ever say that again, so that was pretty cool.” Earl Woods died May 3 of cancer. As Woods got up to leave, he added with a smile, “By the way, the shoe hurt.” … Padraig Harrington plans to make his PGA Tour debut at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

AP-ES-12-15-06 1926EST

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