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Early drama at the Open

July 10, 2009|Associated Press

BETHLEHEM, PA. — There's no denying this is the biggest week in women's golf -- full of good news and bad.

The game's top-ranked player, a former champion and a developmental tour qualifier are one stroke behind a talented second-year LPGA player at the U.S. Women's Open, on a course that doesn't yield birdies easily.

All the while, controversy is swirling around the women's tour amid reports Thursday that LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens could be out of her job as early as next week after a faction of key players signed a letter calling for her resignation.

Na Yeon Choi birdied her first three holes, and four of her first five, making the tough Saucon Valley Country Club course look tame with an opening three-under-par 68.

"I know it's a difficult course, but I was really excited to start my round and I thought it was going to be a very, very interesting week for me," the South Korean said through an interpreter.

It could get quite interesting considering the players chasing the 21-year-old.

No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa, 2007 champion Cristie Kerr and qualifier Jean Reynolds opened with 69s, and Hee Young Park, also of South Korea, was another stroke back after a 70.

"Patience is the No. 1 thing you have to have this week," Ochoa said.

But major news about the LPGA and its players keeps intruding on the championship.

Just as Choi was completing her round, Golf Digest and Golfweek Magazine, citing sources, reported on their websites that Bivens' four-year tenure with the tour is coming to an end.

The move comes after a call for her resignation by key players, who wrote to the LPGA board asking Bivens to step down.

Easily overlooked in the fallout of the LPGA brouhaha were solid rounds by Choi, the runner-up for rookie of the year in 2008, Ochoa, who is seeking her first Women's Open title, and Kerr, aiming for her second championship crown.

Birdies were tough to come by for nearly everyone but Choi, who has won four times in international events.

Playing in her second Open, she made Saucon Valley's narrow fairways seem wide and handled its speedy, undulating greens.

Ochoa started early Thursday on the back nine and offset two bogeys with two birdies on her first nine and then moved below par with consecutive birdies at Nos. 2 and 3.

"It's always hard, you have to be 100% at 7:30 in the morning," she said. "I'm just glad I beat it today, and will try to do the same tomorrow."

Kerr hit 15 greens and 10 fairways in a round of three birdies and a bogey, using her knowledge and confidence of being a former Women's Open champion on the challenging Old Course. She drained birdie putts of 15, 12 and 8 feet and shrugged off her only bogey.

Fourteen-year-old Alexis Thompson was the low amateur after a 71, her finest showing in the first round after missing the cut the last two years. Defending champion Inbee Park shot a 75.

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