Friday, July 04, 2008

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — When a par 5 become a par 4, the result can be, in the words of Fred Funk, "downright stupid."

No. 6 at Congressional Country Club is this week's prime example. It is listed as 518 yards for the AT&T National - the third longest par 4 on the PGA Tour so far this year - and the large water hazard around the right front of the green makes it even more daunting.

"I don't like their mentality with that hole," said Funk, who double-bogeyed the hole to mar his even-par round of 70. "I think it's downright stupid, actually."

The hole produced one adventure after another during Thursday's first round. Defending champion K.J. Choi and Jim Furyk both landed in the front bunker yet saved par. Bo Van Pelt's 40-foot putt provided one of only two birdies among the morning rounds. Corey Pavin, one of the shortest drivers on the tour, had no chance at all: He laid up despite hitting a tee shot that landed in the middle of the fairway.

"That green's designed for a par 5," said Rich Beem, who parred the hole after missing a 15-foot putt for birdie. "That's the problem with par 5s turning into par 4s."

"It's difficult," added Furyk. "You've got to get the ball in the fairway, or you're going to be struggling."

Choi said he was so concerned about the hole that on Wednesday he practiced the very bunker shot he ended up hitting on Thursday.

"It's a one-dimensional hole," Funk said. "If you hit the fairway and you're a long hitter, you can get your shot to fit in there. The shorter hitters are going to have a long, long, long shot in there with a green that's really designed for a wedge."

FUNK & THE DRAGONFLY: Funk's other difficult hole came at the 18th, which he bogeyed because of an intruding insect in the tee box.

"I had a dragonfly hit my shaft on the way down," Funk said. "And I just totally flinched and hit 150 yards off the tee dead right in the trees."

Funk, of course, is a local favorite at this event as the former golf coach at the University of Maryland. He'd love to be in the final pairing Sunday against first-round leader Steve Marino, who grew up in the nearly Virginia suburbs and attended the University of Virginia. "I think we'll have a little border war," Funk said. "We're be the North and the South."

TIGER'S LONG DAY: The days are long for tournament host Tiger Woods as watches the event from afar on television, unable to travel following reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

"I'm wearing a full leg brace and will be on crutches for a few weeks. To be honest, I'm not sure when my rehabilitation will start. I can't put weight on my leg yet," Woods said on his Web site. "These are the longest days - it feels like a 38-hour day."

Fred Couples subbed for Woods at Wednesday's opening ceremony, hitting the ceremonial first shot while accompanied by 25 children whose parents are actively serving in the military.

Collectors in the field have an extra motivation to make it to the weekend. Starting with Wednesday's pro-am, each golfer every day receives a special coin featuring one of the five branches of the U.S. military. Anyone making the cut will receive all five.

"We think they are pretty cool keepsakes," Woods said.

NOTAH'S TRAVELS: The AT&T National is only the fourth PGA Tour event Notah Begay III has played this year, which is not to say he hasn't kept busy.

Begay, a college teammate of Woods at Stanford who received a sponsor exemption this week, lost his full tour status three years ago and now is a member of the European Tour. But he hasn't played in Europe since the Portugal Open in part because his wife had a daughter in February - Antonella - and in part because of the falling dollar.

"The exchange rate - I learned something from Stanford," Begay said.

Instead, Begay has found other tours to play. Just about all of them, in fact.

"By the time the year is done, I'll have played seven tours," Begay said.

That would be the PGA Tour, PGA European Tour, Adams Tight Lies Tour, Gateway Tour, Golden Gate Tour and a state open. He plans to play a Nationwide Tour event later this summer.

OY, OY, CHOI!: Choi holed a shot from a steep greenside bunker for a birdie at No. 8, a pretty mean feat given that the pin was located on the far corner of the green.

Choi thought he had hit the shot well short of the flag.

"And then I turn around and everybody clapped," Choi said. "And I make it."

Choi exchange a high-five with his caddie and went on to shoot a 68 as he opened the defense of his title.

"It's a good number, 2-under par," Choi said. "Not nervous, but very enjoyable."

DREAM WEAVER: Drew Weaver holed out for birdie from the bunker at his final hole, an accomplishment worth three fist pumps from the Virginia Tech amateur.

Weaver, who last year became the first American in 28 years to win British Amateur, steadied himself after a horrible bogey-triple bogey-par-double bogey start to finish with a 75 in his third appearance on the PGA Tour this season.

"It was a long day, but that was a good way to end it," Weaver said.

Weaver's bag was Virginia Tech maroon and orange, but his shirt and hat were a bright green. Is he no longer true to his school?

"I played in 11 or 12 college events and wore the same clothes in every event," Weaver said. "My team clothing is a little worn down, so I figured I might wear some stuff that is pretty stylish. I figure carrying the team bag is a big enough statement."

AK IS OK: The suspense is on, golf world. Anthony Kim is promising to unveil a new belt buckle.

Kim wasn't wearing one of his flashy trademark "AK" belt buckles on Thursday, when he shot a 67, but he promised to show off a new one before the AT&T National ends on Sunday.

"I actually had to get insurance on this one; that's how nice it is," Kim said.

Kim's fascination with the buckles began when he spotted some at a shopping mall kiosk, but the new one apparently comes from a more posh outlet.

"I have graduated from those roots," he said.

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