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CHOI'S STEADY HAND GRABS ONE-SHOT LEAD

K.J. Choi has won tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods over the past nine months during a steady climb into the top 10 in the world. Further proof of his staying power came Thursday on a cool, windy morning at Riviera on the PGA Tour.

He managed to take the early lead at Hogan's Alley.

On a course that has given him fits, Choi played bogey-free in breezy conditions for 6-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Kevin Na among the early starters in the Northern Trust Open.

"This course, I've always had trouble putting and my iron shots have always been a problem," Choi said. "But I felt like they were working (Thursday), and I think even the weather was pretty pleasant when I played. So it all worked out good."

It didn't work out so well for the late starters, who faced a strong wind that could be heard as much as it was felt, rattling the pins on every green and making it tough to get it close to the hole, especially as the sun and temperatures dropped late in the afternoon.

Seventeen players failed to finish the round before dark.

Chad Campbell and Vaughn Taylor were at 67. Phil Mickelson took a 30-minute commute by plane from his home north of San Diego and opened with 68, dropping a shot on his final hole when his drive found the bunker and left him unable to reach the green.

John Daly was atop the leaderboard at times during the morning and finished with 69, which might have been better had he not taken a tour of the barranca that divides the eighth fairway. But for a guy whose season is defined by initials - one MDF, one WD, two MCs - he had few complaints.

"It's nice to finally get off to a decent start," he said.

LPGA: Kelli Kuehne shot bogey-free 5-under 67 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of the season-opening SBS Open in Kahuku, Hawaii. Annika Sorenstam, coming off an injury-shortened season where she failed to win for the first time since her rookie season in 1994, opened with 70 - matching playing partner and defending champion Paula Creamer. Brittany Lincicome of Seminole opened with 74. Kuehne was in the second group off the 10th tee and took advantage of the tranquil morning conditions. "I hit it well and I made a couple putts, so I'm certainly not complaining about my first round of '08," said Kuehne, whose best finish last year was a tie for 24th at the MasterCard Classic.

Els rejoins match play: Ernie Els changed his mind and entered the Match Play Championship next week in Arizona, a tournament where he has never made it past the second round in America. Els, a three-time major champion and No. 4 in the world ranking, had said on his Web site and in interviews that he would skip the first World Golf Championship of the season and not make his United States debut until Feb. 28 in the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens. Tiger Woods, the No. 1 seed, is scheduled to face FBR Open champion J.B. Holmes, who opened with 74 in Los Angeles on Thursday, in the first round. The Match Play Championship begins Wednesday.

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