A pair of eagles lifted New Zealander Danny Lee into a tie for the first-round lead at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Thursday as Tiger Woods made an encouraging start.
Lee fired a flawless nine-under-par 63 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, one of three venues being used this week, to end a glorious day of unbroken sunshine level with American Dustin Johnson and South Korean Charlie Wi.
Big-hitting Johnson, champion here in 2009 and 2010, matched Lee with a pair of eagles in a 63 at Pebble Beach, while Wi also had an eagle in his nine-under 61 at Monterey Peninsula, the easiest of the three layouts.
Woods made a solid start in his first appearance on the U.S. circuit this year, firing a six-birdie 68 at Spyglass Hill, the most difficult of the three courses.
Lee, who at 18 became the youngest player to win a European Tour event with victory in the 2009 Johnnie Walker Classic, eagled the 11th and second on his way to a share of the lead.
He then covered his final nine holes in five-under 31 to join Wi and Johnson in early control of the pro-am celebrity event.
"I had some good breaks," Lee, 21, told reporters of his two eagles. "I holed out from a 100 yards away (on 11) ... and I was in the left bunker in a very tough place to get up and down from there (on two).
"I had to pick up slack to stop the ball, and it picked up slack and went in," smiled the South Korea-born New Zealander, who burst onto the world stage by winning the 2008 U.S. amateur championship.
"After that, I got good momentum going and I played really nicely."
World number 10 Johnson, the highest-ranked player in the field, was delighted to be back at a venue where he has thrived in the past.
"Today I would have liked any golf course, I played well," Johnson said after pitching in for an eagle at the par-four third and sinking a 45-footer for another at the par-five sixth.
"But I love being out here. I love the courses. They all set up very well to me. I feel comfortable on them, especially off the tees."
American Ken Duke covered the back nine in a record eight-under 28 at Pebble Beach to complete a 64, finishing alongside PGA Tour rookie Brian Harman, who also started out at Pebble Beach.
The 43-year-old Duke, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-four 16th before finishing a stroke off the pace at eight under.
"When the weather is like this, you really have to take advantage of the golf course and the conditions," Duke said after mixing seven birdies and one bogey with his eagle.
"I just kind of hit it close the whole back nine, and dunked the one on 16. When it's going good like that, things like that happen."
Woods, while delighted with his driving, was a little frustrated by his approach play after ending the first round five strokes off the pace.
"I just wasn't very good with my irons so I'll have to go and work on that. I left a few shots out there for sure," the 14-times major champion said after hitting 11 of 14 fairways.
"It seems like the rest of the guys are going pretty low around this place. They are just tearing the place apart.
"This is the hardest of the three (venues) so hopefully the next two days I can get it going," added Woods, who won the 2000 event before winning the U.S. Open later that year at Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Three-times winner Phil Mickelson opened with a 70 at Spyglass Hill to finish level at two under with triple major champion Padraig Harrington of Ireland, who carded a 68 at Monterey Peninsula.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue and Peter Rutherford)