K.J. Choi K.J. Choi parlays early tee time into first-round lead at Northern Trust Open

A good rest during a week off was apparently enough for K.J. Choi to turn his fortunes around Thursday at Riviera Country Club.

On a golf course where he has had his share of struggles in the past, Choi shot a 6-under-par 65 to take the first-round lead in the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif. The veteran PGA Tour pro from South Korea enjoyed a bogey-free round on his way to taking a one-stroke lead over Kevin Na.

"I had a good rest during the off week last week at home, and then coming over here, I just felt very light," Choi told reporters. "I think starting off a good run like this today, shooting 6-under, you can't be sad about that, so I'm very happy."

Especially at Riviera.

"This course, I've always had trouble putting and my iron shots have always been a problem, but I felt like they were working today," Choi said. "I think even the weather was pretty pleasant when I played, so it all worked out good."

Taking advantage of calmer conditions with an early tee time, Choi opened birdie-birdie and then added birdies at No. 5 and No. 7. His birdies on the back side came at holes 11 and 17.

Choi said he was particularly pleased, considering he has struggled to read Riviera's greens in the past.

"The past six years playing here, the difficulty about these greens is that it looks like — the greens look like it's going to hook then it slices," Choi said. "Then it looks like it's going to slice and then it hooks. It's really confusing, but this week, what I plan to do and what I did most of the day, was I just putted as I saw it.

"I think that's what made the difference."

Choi has shown a knack for doing well after taking the first-round lead. In four previous PGA Tour events as the first-round leader, Choi has gone on to victory, including this year's Sony Open in Hawaii.

The entire field wasn't able complete their first round, however. A total of 17 players were still on the course when the first round was suspended due to darkness.

Like Choi, Na was helped by an early tee time.

"My goal was to get off to a quick start and birdie 10 and 11, which are very doable," Na said in his post-round press conference. "I made a bunch of pars and I just said, 'You know, keep playing for those birdies,' because I was hitting good putts and speed was good, (it was) just not falling.

"I made the turn and then I started hitting them close and the putts started falling in and I took it low on the front nine."

Na opened his back nine with three consecutive birdies on holes 1-3. He later added birdies at No. 7 and No. 9 to finish at 5-under 66.

Chad Campbell and Vaughn Taylor were tied for third at 5-under 67. Phil Mickelson was among a large contingent at 3-under 68, tied for fifth with Alex Cejka, Hunter Mahan, Luke Donald, John Rollins, Scott Verplank, Angel Cabrera, Bill Mayfair and Dustin Johnson.

John Daly was among another large group of players tied for 14th at 2-under 69.

February 15, 2008

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