Paul Simson decided it would pay to take a flight from his home town of Raleigh, N.C., to Rockville and attempt to qualify for his 11th U.S. Amateur championship. Yesterday he shot a 3-under-par 67 to lead after the first of two qualifying rounds and is halfway to proving himself right.

Manor Country Club is one of 16 sectional sites that is using a new USGA rule that allows more players to attempt to qualify.

Yesterday's round began with 120 golfers and was cut down to 46; the cut was 75, eight strokes behind Simson. Those 46 golfers will play today for four spots in the U.S. Amateur, which will be played Aug. 16-22 at Pebble Beach in California.

In the past, the USGA required a one-day, 36-hole qualifier, which allowed approximately 100 golfers to play two complete rounds at one site.

Simson, a former Walker Cup team member, has played in 10 U.S. Amateurs, the 1998 U.S. Open and was the medalist in the 1997 Mid-Amateur qualifier held at Congressional Country Club.

Simson decided to participate in the Washington-area qualifier instead of one in his home state.

"I had not really played the course in North Carolina and was going to be playing with a lot of guys that played it a lot," Simson said. "I thought it was to my advantage to make the trip north."

Simson was 5 under par (five birdies, four pars) at the turn before bogeying Nos. 16 and 17.

"I've been playing real well," Simson said. "I was a little upset about limping home, but I think I'm in good position."

DeMatha High graduate Kenny Doerrer, who has been to the semifinals of the Maryland State Golf Association Men's Amateur and the quarterfinals of the Washington Metropolitan Golf Association Men's Amateur already this summer, and Arlington's Tom Offutt were one stroke behind Simson.

A five-player group, which includes Maryland Open and WMGA Men's Amateur champion Mike Mitchell, was at 70. Virginia State Men's Amateur champion Steve Marino was among 10 players at 74, including Rockville's Marty West, a 19-time U.S. Amateur participant.

West and two-time U.S. Amateur participant Kirk Lombardi, a Gaithersburg native who shot 70 yesterday, were among those who liked the new two-day format.

"It probably works to the advantage to those like me who are out of shape," Lombardi said. "Plus, we all get a chance to see where we stand, rest up and try to go under par [today]."