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Alameda’s James Hahn makes strong start on first day of 2014 AT&T Pro-Am

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Playing through the whole gamut of possible conditions – from umbrella-popping wind & rain to clear, calm conditions that bordered on the ideal, Alameda’s James Hahn got off to a fast start in today’s opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a 3-under 69, topping his 1-under start of last year.

Hahn and Aussie southpaw Greg Chalmers were the first pro duo off the #1 tee at Pebble Beach this morning, starting their round in light rain and freshening breezes. After opening par-birdie on the par-4, par-5 opening pair of holes, Hahn and the rest of the field were pulled off the course – all three courses, as a matter of fact – due to lightning sightings off shore.

Nearly three hours later, after a wind-driven deluge the likes of which the drought-stricken Central Coast region hasn’t seen in more than a year, play resumed on the three rain-softened courses. Conditions grew more benevolent as the day wore on, with the blustery winds that put teeth in even Pebble’s 106-yard par-3 seventh hole eventually tapering off to a dead calm.

Hahn restarted his round with a string of pars, on holes three through five. On #6, the shortest of the four par-5s at Pebble Beach at 524 yards, but the second-toughest hole on the course due to the difficult uphill second shot and wind-affected position along the north side of Arrowhead Point, Hahn made a jump in the standings.

After landing his second shot just at the crest of the rise from the main fairway to the second portion of fairway on top of the point, Hahn’s third shot flew over the top of the back-center flag, hopped once and spun/rolled back straight at the hole, slipping in with a half-roll to spare for an eagle-3, moving the 2003 Cal grad to 3-under.

The second-year PGA Tour pro picked up another shot at the next hole, the dinky little 107-yard, par-3 seventh. With a blustery wind driving in off of the Pacific from right to left and slightly into the players on the tee, Hahn lofted a 7-iron to ten feet below the hole, rolling in the birdie putt to pick up his fourth shot of the round and moving to the top of the leaderboard, for the moment, at 4-under.

Hahn narrowly missed picking up another shot at the eighth hole, the famous 422-yard par-4 with the over-water second shot that Jack Nicklaus has called “the greatest second shot in golf”. After a 231-yard drive left him with 189 yards over the cove to the flag, Hahn overshot the green, leaving himself a difficult comeback shot from a downhill lie in the rough to a green that falls away sharply from back to front.

With a delicate touch that would do credit to famed “flopshot” master Phil Mickelson, Hahn popped the ball up out of the rough to land in the collar of the green, leaving it with just enough momentum to roll down to the hole – where it lipped out, making a 90˚ turn to the right before stopping at tap-in distance.

Hahn dropped a shot at the ninth hole after a flubbed attempt to escape from the green-fronting bunker, falling to 3-under, and then had a heart-stopping near-miss at the tenth hole when a 26-foot uphill birdie attempt hung on the lip of the hole, no more than a dimple or two from dropping.

The fact that Hahn parred in from the tenth hole may sound routine, but a number of those pars came on far-from-routine par saves – he had four one-putt greens from holes eleven through eighteen.

Great putting was the key to Hahn’s round, with twenty-four total putts – ten on the front and fourteen on the back – serving as proof proof that his 30-minute practice session on the putting green after his Wednesday practice round was productive.

Hahn’s 3-under round puts him in a 23-way tie for 26th – a strong indication of how easy the rain-softened courses were playing after the weather turned mild after midday. Over half of the top 25 scores were recorded by players who started the tournament on MPCC’s Shore Course, the shortest – and though still challenging – least difficult of the three courses in the tournament rota. If Hahn follows last year’s pattern, he will capitalize on today’s round when he moves on to Spyglass Hill for Friday’s round, and MPCC Shore on Saturday – hopefully putting himself in position, once more, for a run at a win in Sunday’s final round back at Pebble Beach.

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