Photo - Asian Tour
CHOI IN CONTENTION AT MASTERS TOURNAMENT
Augusta, Georgia: Asian Tour honorary member K. J. Choi of Korea has not ruled out an Augusta winning glory despite having to play alongside Tiger Woods for a fourth straight day over the final round of the U.S. Masters.
Choi and Woods played the opening two rounds in each other’s company and were also paired for the third day at Augusta National.
The duo commenced the day locked in a share of third place on six-under-par but there was still no separating the Korean and the American with both Choi and Woods carding two-under-par 70s to remain in third place and now on eight-under-par.
It left the Presidents Cup rivals four strokes adrift of England’s Lee Westwood who rolled in a testing par putt on the final green in a round of 68 to finish on 12-under par and a stroke clear of double Augusta winner Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson, who played alongside fellow US PGA champion Y. E.Yang, carved himself a slice of Masters history in becoming only the third player in the 74-year history of the championship to record back-to-back eagles.
The American holed his third shot from 139-yards out at the par five, 13th and then brilliantly did the same at the par fourth 14th hole.
Mickelson then had Augusta patrons roaring themselves hoarse when his approach shot at the par five 15th hole stopped just inches shy of the game’s leading left-hander claiming three eagles in succession.
Choi commenced his round with four straight pars before one of only two bogeys of the day at the par four, fifth hole.
The 39-year old then steadied with an additional three straight pars ahead of a birdie at the uphill ninth hole but he gave back a shot at the downhill 10th.
Choi then pulled off the shots of his round in holing a monster putt at the par four, 11th to save par ahead of another gem for birdie at the shortest hole at Augusta, the par three, 12th.
Choi then birdied the par five 13th for a third day running ahead of moving to eight-under-par along with Woods when both players birdied the par five 15th.
Woods then dropped a shot at the 17th but moved back into a tie with Choi in third place after holing a three-footer for birdie on 18.
“I practiced all morning in the practice area on my 50, 35 and 40 foot puts and the speed, and my body turn was getting into my head,” said Choi.
“And then all day long I hit the irons 35 feet, 25 feet, 40 feet, and made the putts.
“So I am more comfortable today. Also it was calmer today. The wind was very quiet, but still, greens are very hard.
And when it was brought to the notice of the World No. 1 what he thought about playing again alongside Choi he responded: “K J is great.
“I've played with him a lot over the years. K.J’s a great guy, and on top of that he's learned a lot of English. Our conversations are getting a little bit longer now.”
Choi’s reaction to a fourth day in the company of Woods was a lot more upbeat.
“Unbelievable, absolutely fantastic,” he said. "I'm used to him three rounds, so same pairing is fantastic in the tournament.”
But what about the enormous Augusta patron attention afforded Woods compared to that of the quietly-spoken Choi.
The Korean was very diplomatic in responding: “It's very natural for the gallery to support Tiger.
“It is his tournament as he returned here, so I just take it naturally. I don't make a big show of it. I just try to pray and I sing a good hymn, try to think about God's words, and that gives me comfort.
“But I’m really having a good time this week, and I think the fans are really showing their love equally to everybody, especially to me, too, and every hole I feel like the crowds, they are supporting me, as well.
“It's just been a very comfortable week this week. “
Choi’s best finish in a Major was third in the 2004 Masters and he is quietly confident now of still joining Yang as a Major Champion.
“I feel good right now, and I'm just going to keep to my routine and just keep on praying,” said Choi.
“You never know how this tournament is going to finish. We still have one more day, so all I can do is try my best, and we'll see how it goes.
“I have no idea what the winning score will be tomorrow but everybody is playing so well right now. It's really hard to determine at this stage what the winning score is going to be and who's going to come out on top.”
Yang looks to have lost his grip on winning back-to-back Major Championships after posting a second straight level par 72 for a five-under-par tally but now trail seven shots behind Westwood.
Yang was in trouble from the outset when he double bogeyed the second and then dropped to two under par with a bogey at the sixth hole.
He regrouped immediately to birdie the seventh ahead of three straight pars. However the 38-year old bogeyed the 11th hole for a second day running but superbly managed to moments later birdie the par five 13th for a third day in succession.
Yang then birdied the 15th and holed a superb 30-foot plus birdie putt at the last for his five-under par 54-hole tally.
“The double on the second really made everything harder today,” said Yang.
“Other players birdied that hole and I didn't bogey but I double bogeyed it, but it was really hard. It was an uphill battle for me today.”
Strangely Yang, and just like his compatriot Choi, again played in the company of Mickelson for a fifth straight day that includes three rounds of competition plus two practice rounds.
Yang was asked his thoughts on playing alongside Mickelson and he replied: “It's my fifth day, fifth round in a row, and I've gotten used to him, as I told you yesterday.
“He makes players comfortable. Fortunately for me today I was in a good area, good seat, to watch him play some incredible golf. So I was in spectator mode today.
“Phil’s a good player. He played well, so I think there should be something positive about it for me to take away, as well.”
And after playing alongside Woods in the final round of last year’s victorious U.S. PGA Championship, Yang was also asked to compare the experience of Woods versus Mickelson.
“It's a bit different play because it's the third day instead of in my final round in the championship group, so there's less pressure on it,” said Yang.
“Whether or not you actually feel pressure is another thing, but still, it's a different atmosphere going into the fourth round of a championship group, the last group.
“So I can't really compare it. But at the same time, Tiger is tough, but it's also rewarding when the crowd cheers for you.
“And also, if a player plays with you like in a third round, like today, if he has some positive golf, if he plays well, then there is something that will sort of chip off and come to me, as well. “
Yang’s best finish in the Masters is 30th on debut in 2007 and he’s now set himself the goal of a top-10 result.
“The goal is still the same, finish in the top 10,” he said.
“I finished on a very good note, birdied the final putt, so hopefully tomorrow it's going to be an honor to chase for the green jacket but I guess realistic to go for a top 10. “
Choi and Woods will tee off in the penultimate group at 2.30pm local US time and 10 minutes prior to the final group of Westwood and Mickelson.
Yang is out alongside American Anthony Kim at 2pm.