Choi Rings Up the Winning Numbers at Sk Telecom Open

Sun 08 May 2005

Choi Rings Up the Winning Numbers at Sk Telecom Open

Seoul, May 8: Choi Kyung-ju reinforced his reputation as one of Asia’s finest golfing exports this afternoon, when he cruised to a five-stroke victory at the SK Telecom Open in Seoul.

Marking his third Asian Tour victory in his home country, the two-time US PGA Tour winner posted a round of three-under-par 69 to finish with a 72-hole total of 13-under 275. That was enough to easily finish ahead of Fred Couples, who also closed with a 69, and Andrew Buckle in joint second place and collect the winner’s cheque of 100 million won (approximately US$100,000).

Thaworn Wiratchant of Thailand recorded a final-round 72 to finish another shot back in fourth at Il Dong Lakes Golf Club, with Korea’s Park Boo-won in outright fifth. The 2004 SK Telecom Open champion, Simon Yates, mounted a solid defence of his title, finishing in a tie for sixth after a 69 on the last day gave him a four-round total of 283.

Choi, who now calls Houston home, but was raised on Wando, part of an archipelago of 200 islands off the southern tip of the Korean peninsula, was a clear fan favourite throughout the week and said on Saturday he was determined to win for his supporters.

And win he did, adding the title to victories at the same event in 2003 and another at the 1999 Korean Open. Understandably, Choi was delighted with his efforts.

“Playing in front of my home crowd is always enjoyable for me and I am proud and honoured to have won. I feel like I have been in a form slump in 2005, but with this win that is behind me. I am now very confident of achieving my goal of winning on the US PGA Tour before the end of the season,” he said.

In contrast to yesterday’s see-saw battle between Choi and Buckle, a day on which the pair juggled the lead throughout the round, the final day proved more of a graft at Il Dong Lakes.

The Korean put together seven straight pars to start his round, while Buckle and Thaworn, his nearest chasers, mixed birdies and bogeys. Perhaps the most significant moment came at the eighth hole, when that pair could only answer Choi’s first birdie with bogeys and the lead grew to four shots.

From there, it seemed only a matter of time for the world number 32, who added further birdies at 11 and 12. A double-bogey at the 14th gave the chasing pack a semblance of hope and when Couples, playing two groups ahead of the overnight leaders, birdied 16 the lead was down to two.

However, a Choi birdie at 15 righted the ship and he went on to complete a popular triumph with a final birdie at 18 – thanks in large part to a new approach on the greens. “The big difference between missing the cut last week in Shanghai and winning here was the work I did on my swing and my short game between the events.

“I spent Saturday last week working on my putting and changed my grip to left hand below right for this week and that really made the difference.”

Couples, the 1992 US Masters champion, who lamented his ability to score low enough this week to really challenge, left his best until last. The 15-time winner on the US PGA Tour reeled off birdies at 13, 15 and 16 to storm into contention for an unlikely chance at victory.

However, time ran out for the American and he was forced to make do with a share of second alongside Buckle. “I was always a bit far back and I knew ‘KJ’ was going to play well. But the weather was not perfect, so I thought if I could shoot five or six-under I might be able to win the tournament.

“Early in the round I missed several makeable six, eight and 10-footers for birdies and by then I felt like I had no chance of winning. On the back nine, it was very exciting, but it just was not enough.”

Although disappointed not to have played better than his closing 74, Asian Tour rookie Buckle posted his best finish of the season and found a new level of confidence in Seoul.

“It was a great experience and if you had said earlier in the week that I could have come here and run second I would have been happy. On the front nine, I just let him get too far ahead – five shots – and I made too many mistakes and too many bad swings to catch up. The back nine was better, but, by then, as I said, it was too late.”

The 22-year-old, winner of the Australian Amateur title in 2001, added: “It was a great experience. KJ is a great player and I learned a lot playing with him, so I will take plenty out of the week.”

For Thaworn, his fourth top-10 of the year, and first since his triumph at the Enjoy Jakarta Standard Chartered Indonesia Open in March, proved an excellent boost in his chase for the Asian Tour Order of Merit crown.

“I was confident of playing well if the weather conditions were good, but it was fairly cold today and I found it difficult to get in a rhythm. So, I am very happy with how I finished and what I have achieved.

“To win the Asian Tour Order of Merit is a big goal of mine. At the moment Thongchai Jaidee has the lead, but maybe if I keep playing like this I can catch him within the next few weeks. He is a great player, but if I can continue my good play I think I could be a good chance to win the Order of Merit,” he added.

Leading third-round scores

275 - Choi Kyung-ju (KOR) 67-71-68-69

280 - Fred Couples (USA) 70-70-71-69, Andrew Buckle (AUS) 68-68-70-74

281 - Thaworn Wiratchant (THA) 70-72-67-72

282 - Park Boo-won (KOR) 70-69-70-73

283 - Edward Loar (USA) 71-72-72-68, Simon Yates (SCO) 70-75-69-69

284 - Clay Devers (USA) 71-73-71-69

285 - Prom Meesawat (THA) 72-72-73-68, Kim Dae-sub (KOR) 69-77-70-69, Gary Rusnak (USA) 72-72-67-74

286 - Shiv Kapur (IND) 69-70-76-71, Keith Horne (RSA) 73-74-69-70, Park Do-kyu (KOR) 71-73-71-71, Richard Moir (AUS) 72-71-71-72, Kang Kyung-nam (KOR) 68-71-75-72, Kim Su-nam (KOR) 71-72-71-72

287 - Sushi Ishigaki (JPN) 70-72-74-71, Kim Kyung-tae [A] (KOR) 72-71-75-69, Kang Sung-hoon [A] (KOR) 71-72-75-69, Rick Gibson (CAN) 70-73-71-73, Jang Ik-jae (KOR) 72-72-70-73