Choi and Buckle Set for Final-Round Duel in Seoul

Sat 07 May 2005

Choi and Buckle Set for Final-Round Duel in Seoul

Seoul, May 7: Choi Kyung-ju remained on course for a third Asian Tour victory in Korea after posting a four-under-par 68 to draw level with overnight leader Andrew Buckle after 54 holes at the SK Telecom Open in Seoul.

Hailing from the island of Wando, off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, Choi’s aggregate of 10-under-par 206 puts him in prime position to claim a second title at the SK Telecom Open, an event he first won in 2003.

A return to the sunny spring days of earlier in the week saw red numbers adorn the leaderboard on day three at Il Dong Lakes Golf Club, with Buckle acquitting himself with distinction in recording a 70. Twice he fought back from two-shot deficits to set the pace with Choi on the north-eastern outskirts of the Korean capital.

Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant, courtesy of a stunning eagle and a round of 67, and Korean Park Boo-won share third, three shots behind the leaders, with Koji Katoh of Japan alone in fifth one more stroke adrift. Fred Couples and Gary Rusnak are another shot back in equal sixth place.

Last year’s SK Telecom Open champion Simon Yates, still fighting the back injury that almost saw him withdraw on Thursday, recorded a third-round 69 to continue an impressive defence of the title at a tie for 10th after three days.

Playing together in the final group alongside Katoh, Choi and Buckle, who led by two shots after 36 holes, engaged in a shoot-out resembling match play for much of the day. The first turning point came at the third, when – after a birdie at the first hole – Choi added another against Buckle’s bogey. The two-shot swing thrust the Korean into the lead.

However, the young Australian hit back with birdies of his own at each of the next two holes to regain the lead and the match was on. A bogey at the sixth hole dropped Buckle back into a tie with Choi, with the two-time US PGA Tour winner assuming the lead with a birdie at seven and stretching it to two at the next.

A bogey at the 10th for the world number 32 saw the margin back to a single stroke in the see-saw battle, before Buckle did the same and the difference was again two. However, birdies for the 22-year-old at 12 and 13 quickly brought him level once more.

Choi hit back immediately with another birdie at the very next hole, before, remarkably, Buckle answered again at 15 and they were tied at 10-under. That was the way it ended, with the prospect a thrilling showdown to come tomorrow.

Choi credited his aggressive approach for his fine play, although was left disappointed with his finish.

“I had a lot of birdies on the front nine, but was not able to get it going on the back side. In the beginning, I was very aggressive just like I planned to be, but on the back nine I was always finding my ball in bad positions and had a lot of flyers.”

Fittingly for a man who has played his way into the upper echelons of international golf, Choi remains confident. “Obviously, it feels great knowing that everybody wants me to win and I am going to be trying my best to meet their expectations. I feel very good right now, so I will be going for it and trying to win it all.”

However, he is wary of his fellow leader. “I have honestly never seen a player that putts so well. He is very young, very talented and swings the club really well. I am going to have to play as well as I can to come away with the win.”

Asian Tour rookie Buckle showed great composure in the company of his more illustrious rival. “He is a world-class player, so I knew that I needed to play my own game and stay patient. I hit the ball poorly on the front nine and was just trying to hang in there. My putting was keeping me in it and I did not play too badly in the end.

The 22-year-old former Australian Amateur champion added: “It was not really like a match play situation, because you know it is only the third round and you are trying to get yourself into position for Sunday. I was not too worried about what he was doing, although – being in the same group – you know exactly how he is playing, of course.

“I am going to try and enjoy it tomorrow and see what happens. I am sure that he is going to want to win here in Korea, so I will be out there just trying to have fun,” said Buckle.

For Thaworn, a spectacular start punctuated an excellent performance at Il Dong Lakes. Starting the day two-under, the Thai player holed a 120-yard wedge shot at the first hole for an eagle-two and added another three birdies on his way to a 67.

Thaworn, who can overtake compatriot Thongchai Jaidee at the top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit with a strong performance this week, said: “I really played well and my driver and irons were very strong, but my putting was not good enough. I have struggled on the greens and I am finding it very difficult to read the lines.

“At the 16th, I hit my driver in the bunker off the tee and hit my second shot in the bunker as well. I splashed out and had about 10 feet for par. I was able to make that, though, and that kept my momentum going for the rest of the round.”

Just a stroke behind Thaworn is 15-time US PGA Tour winner Couples, who scorched to four birdies in five holes from the eighth to threaten the leaders. Unfortunately, he cooled off with a brace of back-nine bogeys and feels he is too far behind the leaders to threaten.

Said the 1992 US Masters champion: “I am just not making enough birdies, so when I do make mistakes it just evens everything out. That is what happened and is why I have shot 70-70-71.

“You have to make five or six birdies per round here and you should not make too many bogeys. It is a great course, but the greens are big, so – if you get in trouble – you should still get your shot on the green. I have been struggling to get to seven or eight-under just to be close and now I am too far behind,” said Couples.

The US$500,000 SK Telecom Open is the 11th event on the Asian Tour in 2005, with the winner’s share of the prize money set to be approximately US$100,000.

Leading third-round scores

206 - Andrew Buckle (AUS) 68-68-70, Choi Kyung-ju (KOR) 67-71-68

209 - Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 70-72-67, Park Boo-won (KOR) 70-69-70

210 - Koji Katoh (JPN) 67-71-72

211 - Gary Rusnak (USA) 72-72-67, Fred Couples (USA) 70-70-71

213 - Park Jae-kyung (KOR) 68-75-70, Bryan Saltus (USA) 73-69-71

214 - Craig Warren (AUS) 69-75-70, Simon Yates (SCO) 70-75-69, Anthony Kang (USA) 72-72-70, Jang Ik-jae (KOR) 72-72-70, Rick Gibson (CAN) 70-73-71, Kim Su-nam (KOR) 71-72-71, Richard Moir (AUS) 72-71-71, Lee Gun-hee (KOR) 72-70-72

Kang Kyung-nam (KOR) 68-71-75

215 - Clay Devers (USA) 71-73-71, Choi Sang-ho (KOR) 68-76-71, Park Do-kyu (KOR) 71-73-71, Edward Loar (USA) 71-72-72, Shiv Kapur (IND) 69-70-76