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Els, Immelman in the hunt in US

Anthony Kim maintained his blistering form from last week’s Ryder Cup to charge into a four-stroke lead in Thursday’s opening round at the Tour Championship.

The 23-year-old American, seeking his third PGA Tour victory this year, fired a sparkling six-under-par 64 on a breezy, sun-baked day at East Lake Golf Club.

Kim, who played a significant role in the United States Ryder Cup victory over Europe at Valhalla, piled up eight birdies and two bogeys to pull clear of a high-quality leaderboard.

American world number two Phil Mickelson opened with a 68 to share second place with South Africans Ernie Els and Masters champion Trevor Immelman.

South Korean KJ Choi carded a 69 while Canadian left-hander Mike Weir and Spaniard Sergio Garcia returned matching 70s.

Only five players in the elite field of 30 broke par in the final event of the PGA Tour’s regular season with East Lake’s renovated greens running lightning-fast.

”The course is playing a lot tougher than I had heard about,” Kim told reporters. ”The greens are just so firm that you have to hit the fairways.

”Almost everything in my game was clicking pretty well out there. I took a couple of aggressive lines and it worked out.”

Kim celebrated hard with his teammates after ending his Ryder Cup debut with a 5&4 victory over Garcia in the top singles match but he has put those joyful memories behind him to concentrate on this week.

”It took me a couple of days to get over that celebration, that party, but I’m over it now,” he said with a broad grin. ”I’m just focusing on this tournament.

Good vibe
”It’s great when you walk up to a green and you’ve got people saying: ‘Nice job at the Ryder Cup. Way to bring the Cup back home’. When I’m happy, having a good time, I’m going to make some birdies. It was a good vibe out there today.”

Mickelson, champion here in 2000, briefly got to four under before slipping back with bogeys on 16 and at the last.

”It was playing very tough and I’ll take anything under par,” the left-hander said. ”I’m pleased with two under.

”The greens weren’t holding and we knew that was going to happen. When the greens are young, the ball doesn’t hold as well.”

Els was satisfied with his 68, despite bogeying the par-three 18th.

”I’m pretty happy with it,” the South African world number six said of a round that included five birdies and three bogeys. ”It’s a little windy out there and the greens are firm.

”The 18th hole is never the easiest to finish on but I hit a bad tee shot there. Overall I felt I played pretty well. I kept the ball in play most of the day and didn’t do anything silly.”

Of the other big names in the field, Jim Furyk opened with a 72 while Fiji’s Vijay Singh battled to a 73.

Singh, who has all but secured the season-long points race for the FedExCup, bogeyed five of the first 11 holes before ending the day nine strokes off the lead.

After winning the first two of the four lucrative play-off events, Singh simply needs to complete Sunday’s final round to lift the trophy and pocket $9-million in cash with $1-million deferred. — Reuters

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