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Scott Piercy tops leaderboard with a 64

Scott Piercy, with his approach play in top order, made the most of ideal scoring conditions on the southern California coastline to surge one stroke clear in the San Diego Open first round on Thursday.

With hardly a breath of wind on a glorious sun-drenched day, Piercy fired a sizzling eight-under-par 64 on the North Course at Torrey Pines, one of two layouts hosting the fourth PGA Tour event of the year.

Piercy scorched the front nine in seven-under 29 before ending the round one ahead of compatriots Ben Crane, Chris Tidland and Tour rookie Matt Every, plus Ryuji Imada of Japan, who all played on the North layout.

American Tom Pernice Jr opened with a bogey-free 66 on the North while Australian Robert Allenby, who started out on the more difficult and much longer South Course, was among a group of nine bunched on 67.

Tournament favourite and three-times champion Phil Mickelson, who also began on the South, carded a two-under 70 after adopting a conservative approach in his first competitive round of the year.

Piercy, a rookie on last year’s PGA Tour, was delighted to make a red-hot start after missing the cut in his first two events of the season.

“I ended the year well and was excited for 2010 to start,” the 31-year-old told reporters. “I almost won twice late in the year and I was kind of itching to get back out here.

“I made a lot of tap-in birdies today. I tapped it in on one, tapped it in on two and chipped it in on three. On five, I hit it to like six inches again and also on seven. I couldn’t do a bad thing on the front nine.

“I kind of slowed down a little bit on the back but it was a lot wetter than the front and I got a couple of mud balls.”

Allenby, widely regarded as one of the best ball-strikers in the game, was delighted with his five-birdie display.

“I played nicely,” said the 38-year-old Australian, the only player in the top 15 who began on the South Course. “No bogeys, and that’s always a nice thing on the South Course.

“The only reason why I come to this tournament is because of the South Course. I always enjoy playing it. It’s very challenging, and it’s definitely a ball-striker’s course.”

World number two Mickelson, who heads this week’s field in the conspicuous absence of top-ranked Tiger Woods, was reasonably satisfied with his start.

The three-times major champion mixed five birdies with three bogeys to lie six strokes off the pace but he will be tackling the easier North layout in Friday’s second round.

“I’ll take a couple under on the South,” Mickelson said. “It’s playing long and it’s not the easiest to go low on.

“I played a little cautious today, trying to not make too many mistakes (to) keep myself in it because tomorrow the North is a course that provides the opportunity to shoot a low round.”

Three-times major winner Ernie Els of South Africa also carded a 70 on the South while defending champion Nick Watney of the United States opened with a 71 at the same venue.

The scoring average on the 6,986-yard North Course was 70.192 while the brutal 7,698-yard South yielded a mean of 72.769.

Scores

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