- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2008

Bob Estes dryly observed moments after he finished his opening round at the AT&T; National that he just played the game.

It turned out only one other player played it any better Thursday at Congressional Country Club.

Estes, who won the Kemper Open in 2002 for the last of his four career victories, shot a 4-under 66 and sits in a group of four players one shot in arrears of leader Steve Marino.

It was a welcome boost for a player who has made only seven cuts in 16 events this season and has only one top-10 finish in that span.

“I hit a lot of good shots, and I hit a lot of shots that weren’t so good,” Estes said. “I made some really good up-and-downs, one for par and one for birdie. It was just one of those rounds I didn’t get in too bad a trouble.”

It was a mostly uneventful day for Estes, who was 3 under at the turn but bogeyed No. 10. He rattled off a string of pars before sticking his approach at the 15th within four feet and then producing an up-and-down out of the bunker a hole later for another birdie.

That burst placed him in solid shape after one day - so long as he keeps playing the game.

“There’s lots of rough out there, lots of difficult greens and lots of difficult areas around the greens,” Estes said. “You just kind of accept what you get and do the best with what you get, and that’s what I did.”

Begay breaks out

Notah Begay III was probably among the most unlikely players in the 120-player field to shoot a 3-under 67 in the opening round.

Just ask him.

“It was one [heck] of a surprise for me, to be perfectly honest,” Begay said.

But there the 35-year-old was, in contention on the first day while playing only his fourth event of the season. Injuries helped derail Begay’s career, but he received a sponsor’s exemption this week for an event in which his old college teammate, Tiger Woods, is host.

Begay, who entered the week 241st on the money list, responded with a steady round. He sprinkled four birdies and a bogey - and despite his own shock, it had a chance to be even better.

“I hit quite a few fairways, and that’s what you have to do out here,” Begay said. “This course is very difficult from tee to green, and you have to hit some fairways and put the ball in the right spots on the greens. If you do, you’re going to hit some good putts. I could easily have shot 5 or 6 under today, [but] I missed several putts inside six feet.”

Three withdraw

The 120-player field has shrunk by three.

Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA Championship winner, withdrew after a 6-over 76. Elkington triple-bogeyed No. 11 - his second hole - and had only one birdie on his round. Craig Kanada withdrew shortly after shooting 79.

Meanwhile, Shigeki Maruyama was 6 over through 11 holes when he withdrew with a left thumb injury.



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