By Mark Lamport-Stokes
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - While most eyes were on six-times champion Tiger Woods as he briefly moved within a stroke of the lead at the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday, Brandt Snedeker launched his title defense in barnstorming style.
Snedeker, who has posted four top-10s in his previous six appearances in the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, charged into a tie for the lead with South Korean KJ Choi after carding a flawless seven-under-par 65 in the opening round.
The fast-talking American birdied four of his first nine holes before picking up three more shots after the turn on the easier North Course, one of two layouts hosting the fourth PGA Tour event of the year.
"Obviously, a great start," FedExCup champion Snedeker told reporters. "It was nice to be back here defending. The golf course is in great shape and to play the way I played today was nice.
"I drove the ball really well, didn't make too many mistakes and, when I did, my putter saved me.
"It was a great day, but I realize we've got three more of them to go and I've still got the hard course to go, so not too much excitement yet."
Choi birdied three of his last four holes on the tougher South layout to join Snedeker at seven under while Woods, who got to six under after a storming seven-under run from the fifth to the 13th, finished bogey-par-bogey-par for a 68 on the South.
Canadians Mike Weir and Adam Hadwin, who both started out on the North course, and Britain's Ross Fisher were among a group of eight players knotted on 66.
TORREY COMFORT FACTOR
Snedeker, who tied the North Course record in 2007 with a blistering 11-under-par 61 in only his third start as a PGA Tour member, has always felt comfortable at Torrey Pines.
"The golf course for some reason just fits my eye really well," he said. "I come in hitting the ball right speed, reading the right lines and when you do that, and you have that kind of confidence, it kind of bleeds into the rest of your game.
"So I never really panic around here. I always know I'm one round away from playing really well. So it kind of all blends into being a great fit for me."
Phil Mickelson, a three-times champion here whose tournament preparation was distracted by unwise public comments he made about his tax concerns, struggled on the greens on the way to a level-par 72 on the easier North Course.
"It's fun to see a guy play well, it shows you what you need to do," said Mickelson, who totaled 30 putts while playing in the company of Snedeker. "I didn't play the best. I hit it poorly. I putted poorly.
"But I love being here at Torrey Pines. The golf course is in great shape, the greens are as firm as I've ever seen them and I'll see if I can get it going tomorrow.
"I haven't been as mentally focused starting out, so, hopefully, I'll be able to turn that around tomorrow and start a little bit more effectively in the future."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)
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