Joe Ogilvie kept most of his drives in the fairway. K.J. Choi hit all but three greens.
Both earned a share of the first-round lead of the AT&T National yesterday at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club.
Ogilvie was the first of five players to complete a 4-under 66 in the afternoon and was soon joined by Choi, Stuart Appleby, Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh. But Ogilvie endured easily the most tumultuous round of the quintet as he encountered danger every time he strayed from the fairway.
The journeyman — winless in 227 career starts coming into the week and without a top-10 finish since August — hit 10 of 14 fairways but bogeyed three of the four holes when he sprayed the ball into the rough.
“Pretty much every time I hit it in the rough I made bogey, which most people are going to do this week,” Ogilvie said. “Every time I hit it in the fairway I had a pretty good chance for birdie. This tournament is going to be won or lost hitting it in the fairway.”
Ogilvie struggled along for much of the front nine, wavering between even and 1 over before making an 8-foot birdie putt at No. 8. He didn’t make a sustained charge until late, recording birdies at Nos. 16, 17 and 18 to reach 4 under.
There also wasn’t any extended slide for Ogilvie, who made eight birdies to more than offset any trouble he encountered.
“Every time I made a bogey I hit the fairway on the next drive,” Ogilvie said. “If you miss a couple fairways in a row here, it can get pretty ugly pretty quick. I also decided after playing a practice round on Tuesday that every time I hit it in the rough I was just going to hit a wedge out. … I’m just going to take my medicine.”
The plan worked especially well at the final hole, where he stuck a wedge from the first cut of rough within six feet to finish with a birdie. It was a shot reflective of the receptive greens at Congressional, which made for relatively tame conditions given the considerable rough in place this week.
A brief shower passed through during the middle of the afternoon, resulting in a 14-minute delay and more moisture for the course. It’s a process that could repeat itself throughout the weekend, preventing scores from skyrocketing too much.
“It’s Washington, D.C., in the summer,” Ogilvie said. “You’re going to have afternoon thundershowers. I don’t foresee very firm greens.”
Choi, just more than a month removed from a victory at the Memorial, earned his share of the lead through slightly different means. He took a cautious tour of Congressional, making up for some slightly errant drives with an efficiency in reaching the green.
He reached 4 under shortly after making the turn but ceded two shots at Nos. 3 and 5. He quickly regrouped to birdie No. 6, then converted a 24-foot putt at the 602-yard ninth hole to polish off his 66.
“Considering this was the first time being here at this golf course, I tried to play very carefully, hole-by-hole,” Choi said through a translator. “I think that approach ended up working out.”
So too did sticking with a strategy that served him well in his recent victory. Choi relied on a fade shot to collect his fifth career victory and doesn’t plan to abandon an approach that could keep him in contention again this week.
“I felt like I had to hit a lot of fades here, and coming over here you really have to hit it on the right side to be able to have a chance to get your scores low,” Choi said.