Choi Leads Wild Chrysler

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2006 Chrysler ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- K.J. Choi took double bogey and called it a good experience. He nearly made an ace on what he called a bad shot. It added up to a 5-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead after a wild Friday in the Chrysler Championship.
 
Along with solid play from Ernie Els, relief for Paul Azinger and agony for Brian Bateman, was a police chase in the middle of the round as officers with guns drawn sought a pair of juveniles accused of burglarizing a nearby house.
 
Brian Gay
First-round leader Brian Gay is one back at 7 under.
'Never had a manhunt out here,' said Brian Gay, whose drive was interrupted when police came onto the third tee box.
 
As the wind died late in the afternoon at Innisbrook, Choi was at 8-under 134 and led Els, Gay and Jonathan Byrd by one shot.
 
'Today is very good,' Choi concluded after his strange day that set up a chance to get into the TOUR Championship next week with a victory. 'My swing is very strong and my control is very good.'
 
The Chrysler Championship is the final full-field event of the year on the PGA TOUR, and there are battles all over the Copperhead course as players are trying to get into the top 30 on the money list to get into the TOUR Championship, the top 40 to secure Masters invitations, or the top 125 to keep their cards.
 
As usual, the drama was toward the bottom of the leaderboard, because the only way to make money is to make the cut.
 
Brian Bateman was No. 126, and getting a tee time on the weekend might have been all he needed to get inside the top 125. It was a struggle most of the day, but he finished strong with an approach into 2 feet on his final hole to reach 3 over.
 
Then he waited -- in vain, as it turned out.
 
Stuart Appleby made a 15-foot birdie on his ninth and final hole, and not enough players on the bubble made bogey in the blustery conditions late in the day. Seventy players made the cut at 2-over 144, meaning Bateman will have to head back to Q-school.
 
Still alive were Duffy Waldorf (No. 130), despite a 76 that put him at 143; and Paul Goydos, a long shot to keep his card. He birdied the 18th for his second straight 68, leaving him in fifth place and only two shots out of the lead.
 
Goydos needs to finish at least alone in fourth place or better to have a chance at earning his card for 2007.
 
The thrills belonged to Paul Azinger, who two years ago bogeyed the last two holes to miss the cut by one shot, eventually costing him his card. He was at No. 122 coming into the Chrysler Championship, and had to scramble at the end. But he holed a 15-foot par putt on the 17th, and an 8-foot par putt on the 18th to make the cut by one shot.
 
With one guy ahead of him (Matthias Gronberg) and five guys behind him on the money list who either missed the cut or did not play, Azinger is virtually a lock to keep his card and be eligible for the FedExCup competition next year.
 
'Sweet,' he said, raising a plastic cup of iced tea.
 
For all the money, a trophy is still on the line this week, and Choi and Els appeared to be strong front-runners.
 
Choi won at Innisbrook in 2002, so he has good vibes on the golf course. The swirling wind at 8 a.m. had been concerned, but he shot up the leaderboard with a 32 on the back nine, and four straight birdies on the front.
 
No shot looked better than the par-3 fourth, a 4-iron that stopped a foot from the cup.
 
'A very bad shot,' Choi said, speaking without an interpreter. 'I hook shot. Usually hook shot in the bunker. Today, the wind was strong and wind push and together with the hole ...'
 
The only hitch came at No. 8, when he ripped a new 5-wood through the wind, beyond the green and into the deep rough. He powered that shot through the green and was pleased to escape with double bogey.
 
'A good experience today,' he said.
 
Els is feeling good, too. He has looked lost at times this year, but he has dedicated himself to catching Tiger Woods atop the world ranking, setting aside three years to get it done. That seems to have motivated Els, and with a target in mind -- even though Woods isn't here this week -- he has walked tall at Innisbrook.
 
Els shot a 66 with superior iron play, none has impressive as a 7-iron from 161 yards into a slight breeze to a back pin at No. 10, his opening hole. It won't make many highlight films, but it was pure, stopping 3 feet away for a birdie. He also hit a 30-yard bunker shot to 2 feet on the par-5 11th for birdie, and even after pushing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 13th, his spirits were strong.
 
Els is No. 30 on the money list, but has every reason to believe he can win this week for the first time all year, and get that trip he so badly wants to Kapalua for the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. At the very worst, he appears to have sewn up his spot in the TOUR Championship next week.
 
'I'm hitting it solidly, and I'm putting quite nicely,' Els said. 'I'm looking forward to this weekend. I would love to get into Hawaii. I figure I have two chances at it.'
 
Divots:
Bubba Watson was 5 over and needed a big finish, and the big-hitting rookie knows only one way. He tried to drive over the water on the 380-yard 12th hole -- most guys lay up with 3-iron or a hybrid club -- and he easily cleared the pond, not to mention the mesh netting that borders the golf course. It went well out-of-bounds, so he reloaded and came up 30 yards short of the green. He made double bogey, but it was entertaining. ... Brittany Lincicome, one of the biggest hitters on the LPGA Tour, followed Watson in the second round. She lives in the area and used to be a volunteer at this tournament. ... Adam Scott holed out from the ninth fairway for eagle, but still missed the cut with a 74. ... Defending champion Carl Pettersson missed the cut.
 
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - Chrysler Championship
  • Full Coverage - Chrysler Championship
     
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