Choi Wins Inaugural Tiger Tournament

By Associated PressJuly 8, 2007, 4:00 pm
AT&T NationalBETHESDA, Md. -- Tiger Woods stood on the 18th green and again followed a path blazed by Jack Nicklaus.
 
No, it wasn't a spectacular bunker shot or a tournament-winning putt. It was a championship presentation to K.J. Choi.
 
'Here's your trophy, big guy,' said Woods, who watched as Choi kissed the silver-colored replica of the Capitol.
 
K.J. Choi
In just under two months, K.J. Choi has won both Jack's event and Tiger's event.
For the second time in five weeks, the biggest South Korean star of the PGA TOUR soaked up the cheers as the prized guest at a golf party thrown by one of golf's greats. Having accepted the crystal trophy from host Nicklaus at the Memorial in late May, Choi persevered in an adventurous back nine for a three-stroke victory Sunday at Woods' inaugural event, the AT&T National.
 
'This tournament is just too big for me to really absorb right now,' Choi said. 'But it's a very big win for me, and definitely the biggest win of my career.'
 
But even Choi's victory -- with the accompanying $1.08 million first-place check that equaled the one he got at the Memorial -- couldn't overshadow Woods, who turned his first tournament into a red, white and blue spectacle of military tributes and Fourth of July patriotism. In return, the huge galleries all but worshipped Woods' every move, thanking him endlessly for bringing the tour back to the Washington area after the long-running Booz Allen Classic was dropped last year.
 
'It's been a perfect week,' Woods said.
 
Perfect, with one obvious exception: He was never really in contention at his own event. His putter let him down Thursday (73) and Saturday (69), and his 66 on Friday wasn't enough to compensate. Seven strokes behind as Sunday dawned, Woods played a final round of even-par 70 that was more celebratory than competitive.
 
Still, the crowd of 37,211 didn't seem to mind.
 
'I didn't get a 'W,' so that was frustrating in that sense,' said Woods, who finished tied for sixth at 2 under. 'But this tournament in general has been a bigger success than anyone could have imagined.'
 
Woods wore several hats during the week, juggling daily organizational meetings in between rounds while also dealing with the joys of becoming a father, but no one had any qualms when he proclaimed the event a success. Servicemen from all branches of the military served as announcers at the first tee and 18th green. A huge American flag welcomed the leaders Sunday as they headed down the 18th.
 
Choi added to the international flair, attracting a substantial gallery of Korean-Americans that cheered him in his native language. One fan held a sign with a Korean flag with the words 'Go Tank,' a reference to his nickname. He's also known for learning golf from an instructional book in Korean that featured pictures of Nicklaus, a present from a physical education teacher who thought the teenage Choi might have a gift for the game.
 
There's now no question that Choi, 37, has that gift. He shot a final-round 68 for a 9-under 271 total to win for the sixth time on the PGA TOUR, the most victories by an Asian-born player.
 
'One thing I can say this week's trophy is a lot heavier than Jack's trophy, if that means anything,' Choi said through an interpreter. 'But just winning both events, all I can say is that I have a lot of respect for both players, and to be able to win in their tournaments is just -- I can't even express in words.'
 
Choi had three bogeys early on the back nine, jostling with Steve Stricker atop the leaderboard, but Choi steadied himself with a 12-foot birdie putt at the 15th to take a two-shot lead.
 
That shot was worth two fist pumps from Choi's usually even-keeled demeanor, but the celebration was bigger at the 17th, where Choi holed from the greenside trap for a birdie. Choi took off his visor, retrieved the ball and threw it into the crowd.
 
His next goal: to become the first Asian player to win a major.
 
'It's never looking back, don't look back, just move forward just like a tank,' Choi said. 'Just progress. It's how I felt when I first came over to the U.S. starting out. You know, it was a new culture, new language, everything was new. There were a lot of hurdles for me to overcome, but I just took it day by day, just believed in myself, trusted in the Lord and just moved forward with it and tried my best.'
 
The third-round leader was Stuart Appleby at 9 under -- two shots ahead of Choi -- but he collapsed by dropping six strokes in his first seven holes. The free fall began when the Aussie put his tee shot beyond a cart path at the par-3 No. 2, where he carded a double bogey after missing a 4-foot putt for bogey. Appleby shot a 40 on the front nine and a 76 for the day, finishing in a tie for third at 3 under.
 
Stricker was among several possible contenders who struggled with the bumpy greens on a sweltering day at Congressional Country Club. Stricker had three bogeys on the back nine to finish with a 70. Mike Weir (74) also got close before three consecutive back-nine bogeys. Jim Furyk (69) was in the hunt before going 2 over after the turn.
 
Stricker got frustrated as he watched one putt after another bobble away from the hole.
 
'You end up just tapping it down there,' he said, 'and it goes any which way it wants.'
 
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.