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Choi leads crowd at Mercedes Championship

    KAPALUA, Hawaii — Every player walked off the 18th green Thursday and deposited an autographed golf ball into the new FedExCup trophy that will be awarded at the end of the season.
    Vijay Singh wants the trophy they hand out Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
    Convinced that he has figured out his flaws, determined not to let another opportunity on Maui slip away, Singh survived the raging trade wind at Kapalua to make six birdies for a 4-under 69, leaving him in a five-way tie for the lead as the PGA Tour season began in strenuous conditions.
    ‘‘There’s so much going on about FedExCup, I’m tired of listening to it,’’ Singh said. ‘‘Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good year. There’s still tournaments out there that we have to focus on, and not focus on the FedExCup itself. Right now, my focus is going to be on winning golf tournaments.’’
    This one might require some patience.
    The wind was so strong that Stephen Ames had 152 yards to the hole at No. 13 and ripped a 5-iron. He called it the toughest wind since Saturday at Muirfield in the 2002 British Open, the day Tiger Woods’ hope for a Grand Slam ended with an 81.
    The result was a crowd atop the leaderboard.
    K.J. Choi struck the first shot of the season and was the first to post a 69 with a nice chip to tap-in range on the par-5 18th. Will MacKenzie, one of 13 newcomers to the Mercedes-Benz Championship, and Brett Wetterich and Ames eventually joined the lead.
    Love was poised to join them until he hit a slight fade that the wind turned into a wild slice, the ball disappearing into the weeds on the 16th hole, forcing him to hit another. He escaped with a bogey, then finished with a two-putt birdie on the 18th after hitting 4-iron from 275 yards away with the wind at his back. He was one shot back at 70.
    ‘‘I’m glad to get in under par,’’ Davis Love III said. ‘‘I don’t think if we were on vacation we would have played today.’’
    This is the first of 40 events to earn points in a season-long competition that will end at the Tour Championship, with $10 million going to winner of the FedExCup.

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