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Choi leads drama-filled Open


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POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

BETHLEHEM, Pa. » There's no denying this is the biggest week in women's golf—full of good news and bad.

The game's top-ranked player, a former champion and a developmental tour qualifier are one stroke behind a talented second-year LPGA player at the U.S. Women's Open, on a course that doesn't yield birdies easily.

All the while, controversy is swirling around the women's tour amid reports yesterday that LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens could be out of her job as early as next week after a faction of key players signed a letter calling for her resignation.

Despite the theatrics, it has the makings of a developing drama on the golf course as well, with the game's top players off to hot starts and a 14-year-old amateur trying to make her first cut in her third Open.

Leader Na Yeon Choi birdied her first three holes, and four of her first five, making the tough Saucon Valley Country Club course look tame with an opening round 3-under 68.

“;I know it's a difficult course, but I was really excited to start my round and I thought it was going to be a very, very interesting week for me,”; the South Korean said through an interpreter.

It could get quite interesting considering the players chasing the 21-year-old.

No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa, 2007 champion Cristie Kerr and qualifier Jean Reynolds opened with 2-under 69s, and Hee Young Park, also of South Korea, was another stroke back after a 70.

“;Patience is the No. 1 thing you have to have this week,”; Ochoa said.

Pahoa's Kimberly Kim bogeyed her first three holes and finished 11 over in a tie for 143rd place. Michelle Wie did not qualify for the event, missing her first U.S. Women's Open since 2002.

Birdies were tough to come by for nearly everyone but Choi, who has won four times in international events.

Playing in her second Open, she made Saucon Valley's narrow fairways seem wide and handled its speedy, undulating greens. Choi relied on accurate approach shots throughout and reached 5-under by her 12th hole, before backing up just a bit. Starting on the back nine, she had consecutive bogeys on the 409-yard, par-4 fifth, and 559-yard, par-5 sixth before closing with three pars.

“;I think being here for the second time, being on the Tour for two years now, I think I find it much more comfortable,”; Choi said. “;I now understand better about the magnitude of this U.S. Women's Open, and to be honest, I think I'm much more comfortable playing on this tour and these golf courses than I do in Korea, so, you know, everything is good for me.”;

Ochoa started early yesterday on the back nine and offset two bogeys with two birdies on her first nine and then moved below par with consecutive birdies at Nos. 2 and 3.

The Mexican star seeking her first Women's Open was happy to take advantage of her early tee time. Her previous best start in an opening round was a ninth in 2003.

“;It's always hard, you have to be 100 percent at 7:30 in the morning,”; she said. “;I'm just glad I beat it today, and will try to do the same tomorrow.”;

Kerr hit 15 greens and 10 fairways in a round of three birdies and a bogey, using her knowledge and confidence of being a former Women's Open champion on the challenging Old Course. She drained birdie putts of 15, 12 and 8 feet and shrugged off her only bogey.

“;I'm an Open champion, I know what to expect,”; Kerr said. “;You have to take what the course gives you at a U.S. Open. You try and be aggressive when you can and most of the time you can't be.”;

Reynolds, a two-time winner on the Futures Tour and the leading money winner on the LPGA's developmental tour, had four birdies and two bogeys. She had a chance to take sole possession of the lead, but missed a birdie putt at the 18th.

She's enjoying the ride.

“;I was pretty nervous,”; Reynolds said. “;It was a good feeling, but then again, coming in under the radar and leading at the U.S. Open after the first round is pretty awesome.”;

Alexis Thompson is the low amateur after a first-round 71, her finest showing in the first round after missing the cut the last two years. The 14-year-old from Coral Springs, Fla., is the reigning U.S. Girls Junior champ.