Hawaiian Aye

By Brian HewittJanuary 14, 2008, 5:00 pm
He has won a PGA TOUR event now in each of the last four seasons. His victory total in the States now has climbed to seven. He won the Sony Open Sunday in gusty Hawaii.
 
And now K.J. Choi finds himself on the dubiously distinctive short list of Best Players Never To Have Won A Major.
 
Huh?
 
Actually, in Chois case, being a member of this exclusive group is a compliment mainly because he just joined. Only very good players are allowed into this club. Colin Montgomerie has belonged way too long. Sergio Garcia is itching to escape.
 
Choi, still in his 30s and positioned solidly in the top 10 in the world, is nothing if not methodical. Watching him win the years second event, its hard not to think his time will come in major championships.
 
Very difficult, windy, Choi said after finishing three ahead of runner-up Rory Sabbatini at Waialae Country Club
 
Going into Sunday, Chois four-shot lead looked downright bankable. Four times previously he had led after 54 holes and all four times he had closed the deal. His final round scores in those victories were 67, 66, 68 and 67, respectively, respectfully and respectably.
 
This time he struggled. He hit just four of 14 fairways and shot a closing 1-over-par 71. The win was the thing.
 
K.J. is known to bring it home, said Kevin Na, one of Chois closest pursuers going into the final round. But everyone makes mistakes.
 
Its just that Chois comfort level was so high. On his bag the words, The New Chairman appeared in bold letters. And Choi doesnt just rhyme with joy. It also rhymes with poi, a onetime staple in local Hawaiians diet. Chois victory especially delighted the many people of Korean descent who live on the Hawaiian Islands. The New Chairman, by the way, is a Korean luxury car.
 
For his part Steve Marino looks ready to become a staple on TOUR leaderboards. Not long ago he was toiling on the Gateway Tour. But his improvement has been steady. He even bears a slight resemblance to a young Mark Calcavecchia, which is not a bad thing at all. And on a weekend when the NFL was determining its playoff final four, it just seemed right to have a Marino in the thick of things. This Marino wound up tied for fourth.
 
Another surprise was 29-year-old rookie Tim Wilkinson from New Zealand. Only Choi had fewer strokes than Wilkinson after three rounds thanks to the blazing 8-under 62 posted by Wilkinson (playing in just his third PGA TOUR event) Saturday. It was the best round of the day. But, unfortunately for Wilkinson, he carded the worst round of the day (78) Sunday to drop to T25.
 
While were at it, whats up with Vijay Singh? Prior to last weeks Mercedes Championship Singh held a press conference during which he waxed on and on about his new trainer and how the swing changes he spent working on were finally starting to pay off.
 
Singh also talked enthusiastically about how much he loved Hawaii and how much he enjoyed playing golf there. Then the defending champion went out and posted a rather indifferent tie for 12th at Kapalua followed by a disastrous Sunday start at the Sony Open (bogey, double bogey, par, par, bogey) to finish with a final-round 73 and a disappointing tie for 45th place.
 
Singh turns 45 next month and once again the questions about age catching up with him will begin to resurface.
 
Anyway, the big difference between Chois ability five years ago and his highly-evolved present skill set is the short game. His bunker play was flawless at Sony. And as Nick Faldo reminded us, relating a comment from Chois current caddie (and Faldos former looper) Andy Prodger: He (Choi) putted like God.
 
This will have to continue if Choi ever hopes to win a major. See, theres this guy named Woods ... and ... well ... never mind for now ... thats a subject for another day.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    Getty Images

    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.