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Former Sony winner Choi finds groove, trails by a shot

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. » K.J. Choi was one of only three golfers who went as low as 3 under in the opening round of the 2010 U.S. Open yesterday, before giving back a couple of shots along the way.

The 2008 Sony Open in Hawaii champion enters today’s second round tied for fourth, just one shot off the pace after opening with a blistering 1-under 70 on the tough but fair Pebble Beach course. Choi carded six birdies to tie Mike Weir (70) for the most in the opening round. He also had three bogeys and one of 11 double bogeys at the par-4 second, the second-toughest hole on opening day.

Choi can’t be the first person from South Korea to win a major title; Y.E. Yang took care of that by capturing the 2009 PGA Championship. But Choi would be the first to win a U.S. Open. He has managed a solid 2010, finishing second at the Transitions Championship. He is No. 20 on the FedExCup list with nearly $1.5 million in earnings.

After shooting 3 over on the first two holes, Choi went 4 under the rest of the way.

"I didn’t give up," Choi said. "Eventually, I found my swing. My shots got better, putting went better, I was able to finish the day 1 under, so I’m happy about that."

Choi believes patience is the key to success on this difficult, if familiar, layout. Though Pebble Beach hosts the AT&T National each year, the USGA made sure the course the pros play in June is much more difficult than the one in February.

"The holes play a lot more difficult than they look when you’re standing on the tee," Choi said. "You need to be calm out there, otherwise you’re going to find yourself in trouble."

Woods, Mickelson struggle

The world’s top two golfers looked anything but over the opening 18 holes. Neither carded a birdie, and as a result, neither is in contention entering today’s second round.

Phil Mickelson went out in the morning and shot a horrendous 4-over 75 that left him six shots off the pace of first-day leaders Shaun Micheel (69), Paul Casey (69) and Brendon de Jonge (69).

The 2010 Masters champion is tied for 67th after carding four bogeys and 14 pars. He will need to go low today to put himself into contention. He blamed his putter for his shooting woes.

"I didn’t putt great in the practice rounds, but I putted great last week with (Dave) Stockton and just thought I was ready," Mickelson said. "I’m rolling the ball well, but there’s something off. The ball is not starting on my line, so there’s something a little off. I’ll have to work on it. Fortunately, I have a lot of time to do that."

Mickelson will go off in the afternoon, something Tiger Woods had to contend with yesterday en route to his opening-day 74. He bogeyed the last hole to drop into a tie for 49th. He also bogeyed the ninth and 16th to go with his 15 pars and blamed the greens for his lack of scoring.

"It was so bouncy out there," Woods said. "The greens are just awful. It is what it is. It’s poa (type of grass on the greens) in the afternoon and they’re fast. I three-putted twice and laid up in a bunker. Those are mistakes you just can’t afford to make."


Inside the numbers

The scoring average for the first day of the U.S. Open was 75.07. The hardest hole on the course was the par-3 17th at 3.58. There were 12 birdies, 56 pars, 75 bogeys, 12 double bogeys and one triple by John Rollins, who was 2 under at the time.

In all, there were four holes that yielded double-digit double bogeys. The other three were the par-4 second with 11, the par-5 14th with 15 and the par-5 18th with 10. The easiest hole was the par-5 sixth with a scoring average of 4.64. There was one eagle by Ricky Barnes and 68 birdies, 74 pars, 12 bogeys and one double by Rich Barcelo.


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