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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

Johnson shares first-round lead

 •  Fujikawa's struggles quiet the crowd
 •  Kua perched atop Hawaii scoreboard

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

University of Hawai'i sophomore TJ Kua is pumped after a birdie putt drops on the 16th hole. Kua shot a 1-under 69 to lead the Hawai'i contingent of six.

GREGORY YAMAMOTO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Zach Johnson

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Waialae Country Club got a blast from the past and the wind yesterday, with defending champion Zach Johnson and Davis Love III, who has been playing here 25 years, leading the charge in the first round of the Sony Open in Hawai'i.

Both shot 5-under-par 65s in the PGA Tour's first full-field event of the year. They share the lead with Ryan Palmer, Australian Robert Allenby, John Merrick and Troy Merritt, playing in his first tour event.

Merritt, who won Q-School, is so understated he didn't notice the name on the scoring standard that followed him was "Merrick," until playing partner Rickie Fowler pointed it out.

"I thought it was funny. It didn't anger me at all," said Merritt, who won seven titles his senior year at Boise State. "That's the ultimate of flying under the radar right there."

The real Merrick birdied four of his last seven. He and Allenby are the only leaders who teed off in the afternoon. Allenby, who won two tournaments overseas the end of last year, all but attributed his 65 to spraining his ankle on the crosswalk in front of the pro shop Monday.

Asked if he was "doing more with less," Allenby said "definitely." Asked why players didn't do that more often, he replied: "Because we're psychos."

There are 10 golfers a shot out of first, including Steve Stricker, ranked third in the world. Masters champ Angel Cabrera, 50-year-old Tom Lehman and rookie Martin Flores, making his second tour start, are also in the group.

Kaua'i amateur TJ Kua leads the six local players after firing a 69. The University of Hawai'i sophomore is in a 14-way tie for 32nd with, among others, former champions Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Kua, nephew of 1990 Hawaiian Open champion David Ishii, tees off at 8:50 a.m. today.

It was a typically weird day at Waialae. Fowler, at 21 the youngest and most heralded rookie of the 16 that started here, double-bogeyed his first hole and shot 75 with three birdies.

Lucas Glover led the SBS Championship for three days last week before firing a final-round 76. He beat that by one yesterday, playing the final five holes in 5-over.

John Daly, playing on a sponsor's exemption, shot 73 and hit just four fairways. Actually, that is not unusual for Daly, a two-time major champ trying to find his way yet again.

Palmer, a two-time winner from Texas, hit just five fairways, but has a share of the lead because he one-putted 11 times. His best round in four previous tries at Waialae was 67 last year, and he followed with 75 to miss the cut.

That is a rarity. Palmer climbed into the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking this week after finishing sixth at the SBS Championship.

Love also missed a rare cut last year. He has five top-5 finishes here, with seconds in 1994 and 1999.

"I've shot 60 here," Love said. "I've shot pretty much all of the numbers you shoot on this golf course, 60 to 80. So I know my way around it."

He and Johnson played in a threesome with PGA champion Y.E. Yang. All were 4-under after 14 holes, but Yang played the next three in 4-over.

Love and Johnson let Waialae come to them. They share a passion for its classic layout, but carve it up in different ways.

"Zach controls it real well," said Love, who, at 45, was still among the top 15 in driving distance last year. "I control mine, it's just real high. He said on 18, when I hit my driver, 'I never hit one that high in my life.' His caddie said, 'And you never will.' "

Johnson, 143rd in driving last year, has an uncanny knack for controlling the ball, even in 25-mph gusts. He also has a soft spot for Waialae, where he has to work the ball.

"When it's benign and it's not windy it's still a good track," said Johnson, who had a career-best nine top-10 finishes last year. "When it's windy, it's really hard. You just got to keep the ball in front of you, keep it low.

"It's just strange how this wind can play a factor and how the fairways roll and release. So I like that. I like being able to control my trajectory and as a result my distance control is usually pretty good and today it was on."

It was also on last year, when his final-round 65 held off Adam Scott, David Toms and Charles Howell III. Love played with Johnson the first two days last year too, but couldn't match his "little burst" on Friday and barely missed the cut, and two more days at a course he likes as much for its style as its demand for precision.

"It is tough," Love said. "It's tricky and that's what makes it interesting. It doesn't have to be big and long and 8,000 yards to be hard."


Tom Gillis chose to leave his 27-foot eagle putt for this morning after it got too dark for him last night in the final group. Everyone else finished the round.

Ernie Els' 69 yesterday is his 22nd round in the 60s at Waialae, in 25 tries. It was also two shots worse than his average here the previous six starts. Els won the Sony in 2003 and 2004. His tie for 39th last year was his first finish outside the top 5.

Geoff Ogilvy's second straight win at Kapalua last week put him back into the world's top 10. The Australian jumped five spots to fifth. SBS Open runner-up Rory Sabbatini and Matt Kuchar climbed into the top 50.

Officially, Troy Merritt has never been out of the lead in a PGA Tour event. He went wire-to-wire over six rounds to win the final stage of qualifying school and birdied the last hole yesterday to move into a share of first.

Robert Allenby, on why he didn't withdraw after injuring his ankle: "I've come too far. It's a long way from Florida and the weather is better here too. Too bloody cold back there."

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