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Published: 6/4/2007

Choi shows his Tiger side

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Jack Nicklaus, left, congratulates K.J. Choi on the 18th green yesterday at the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio. The Korean won the event, posting a 17-under par. Jack Nicklaus, left, congratulates K.J. Choi on the 18th green yesterday at the Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio. The Korean won the event, posting a 17-under par.
KIICHIRO SATO / AP Enlarge
Ryan Moore had five straight birdies before a par on the final hole and finished second, one shot behind K.J. Choi. Ryan Moore had five straight birdies before a par on the final hole and finished second, one shot behind K.J. Choi.
JAY LAPRETE / AP Enlarge

DUBLIN, Ohio - K.J. Choi, who normally shows little emotion on the golf course, had a Tiger moment yesterday at the Memorial Tournament.

It came on the 17th hole at Muirfield Village, when his approach shot had flown over the green and his subsequent chip ran 16 feet past the pin.

He knocked the putt dead center, then pumped his fist, pointed at the hole, and yelled so loudly that the veins on his neck protruded.

Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player, would have been proud.

But Choi was No. 1 yesterday. The 17th hole represented one of his six one-putt greens on the back nine, the last coming on a knee-knocking four-footer on No. 18 that proved to be the winner.

Choi, who became the first Korean golfer to win on the PGA Tour in 2002, made the Memorial his fifth career victory on U.S. soil with a closing 65 for a 17-under-par 271 total that was one shot better than Ryan Moore. Kenny Perry, who fired the day's best round, a 9-under 63, and Rod Pampling tied for third at 15-under.

Five of Choi's six one-putts on the back nine were to save pars.

"Six one-putts? Then my hat is off to him," said Pampling. "That's pretty impressive."

At the final hole, with tournament host Jack Nicklaus watching from the side of the green, Choi blasted from a greenside bunker to about four feet past the hole. It had a tricky, right-to-left break, but Choi wrapped it inside the right edge.

That didn't end it, but what happened seconds later did.

Pampling, the leader by three strokes entering the final round, and Adam Scott, both were playing the 17th hole trailing by one shot. But both bogeyed. Pampling hit over the green and didn't recover well while Scott pushed a four-foot par putt that never breathed on the hole.

"I made a great [25-foot] putt for eagle at No. 15 to get close, then I thought I was all over the flag with the shot on 17," Pampling said. "I was staring it down. But we didn't [judge] the wind right, and it went about a club and a half long. That was really disappointing.

"The key, though, was early in the round. I just couldn't get it going. I was even par through six holes and that opened the door for a lot of guys to catch me."

Moore finished before Choi, stringing together five straight birdies starting at No. 13 before settling for a par on the final hole when his approach shot reached the green, but far short of the back pin position.

"After I didn't make birdie at [the par-5] No. 11, I just told myself I wanted to get to 15-under," said Moore, who closed with a 66. "That would be a good, solid tournament. So I got it going, hit a nice little stretch, and all of a sudden I was in it. It was just great having a chance coming up 18. It's a feeling I haven't had in a long time.

"On the other hand, I felt a little helpless because I left it in K.J.'s hands. I mean, he had control of the tournament."

And Choi's putter wouldn't allow him turn it loose.

"I made some good bunker shots and lots of hook [right-to-left] putts," Choi said through an interpreter. "Very impressive, yes. Every time I win on tour I feel if I'm too comfortable, something goes wrong. A certain amount of tension and pressure is good. I had that on those putts."

Perry, a two-time Memorial champion, barely missed an eagle putt at the par-5 fifth hole, then got it on No. 6 when he holed his wedge approach at the par-4 sixth.

"I was never in it, not really," Perry said. "I was so far behind all day I was playing catch-up. So, you know, I had the gas pedal down all day. I was trying to make birdie on every hole, so when I holed the wedge on No. 6, that was really nice. I ended up shooting 30 on the front."

Scott, who had two straight birdies before finishing bogey-bogey, was in a four-way tie at 14-under 274 with Stewart Cink, Sean O'Hair, and Fredrik Jacobson.

The 37-year-old Choi earned his largest-ever paycheck, slightly more than $1 million, and passed the $13 million mark in career earnings. This marks the third straight year he has won at least one tour event.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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