- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

Tiger Woods shooting a 64 makes perfect sense. Even defending AT&T; National champion Anthony Kim having enough gusto in his game to fire a course-record 62 on Thursday seemed feasible.

But the distance from Kim to Woods and Woods to Jim Furyk - occupied by the likes of D.A. Points, Bryce Molder, Steve Elkington and Daniel Chopra - well, that’s a little tougher to explain.

Unless you account for the poa annua greens at Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course, a putting surface so soft that it turned anyone with a consistent short game into a candidate to score in the 60s.

Overnight rain and calm winds in the morning made Congressional a tame track in the first round of the AT&T; National. The field scoring average Thursday was 70.79 - less than a stroke over par - and 36 players posted scores under par. The average player took just 29.81 putts.

Especially in the morning, the conditions rewarded an aggressive approach, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the 24-year-old Kim, known for a bold style of play somewhat reminiscent of Woods in his early years, set the course record.

“To be perfectly honest, I hit quality golf shots and made putts from 10 to 15 feet today,” Kim said. “I didn’t hit it two feet on every hole and tap it in. And sometimes that’s how you make 11 birdies.”

The greens made long putts makable without the threat of the ball buzzing past the hole, and shots landed softly enough that Woods said he was concerned with spinning the ball too much.

“We were hitting little bitty half-shots in there, trying to take some spin off it,” Woods said.

Seven of the top 12 players on the leader board teed off before noon - before a day’s worth of bumps, spike marks and wind dried out Congressional somewhat.

The most notable afternoon exception was Molder, the low amateur at the 2001 U.S. Open who continued a resurgent 2009 season by torching Congressional’s front nine early in the afternoon. He drained two birdie putts and a par putt from outside 15 feet, an approach that worked perfectly but one the 29-year-old said sometimes has embarrassed him in his career. He’s in the PGA Tour’s top half in putts a round, but he’s battled with the perception that his low numbers have to come another way.

“I did struggle earlier in my career with not only shooting a 65 or 64 or 68, but it had to be the right way,” Molder said. “You hit a lot of fairways. You hit a lot of greens. You missed some putts so you can complain about that it should have been lower. … At one time, I would have almost felt bad about making a run of decent-sized putts, and now I don’t because that’s the best part of my game.”

The question late in the afternoon was whether a dry forecast would turn the Blue Course into the sterner test Woods hoped for at the beginning of the week.

Congressional hosts the U.S. Open in two years, and while the last tournament at the course before then wasn’t expected to score like a preview of the national championship, Woods had indicated he preferred the greens firm and the rough high.

Asked after his opening round whether the course was playing how he wanted it, Woods said: “No, it’s not the way I want it just because it rained. I’d like to get the greens faster, but you can’t do it when you get a half-inch of rain overnight. If we get no more rain and this place starts drying out a little bit, we can get these things up to speed and they’ll pick up probably another foot, foot and a half. Come Sunday, they won’t be springy, but at least they’ll have a little more roll-out to them, and you have to think about how you’re going to go into some of these flags.”

In time, that will happen. But on Thursday, Congressional was forgiving enough to give the tournament’s host a strange complement of guests atop the leader board.

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