Choi Wins Consolations for Others

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2006 Chrysler ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- K.J. Choi got off to the start he wanted. Ernie Els had the finish he needed.
 
Choi seized control of the Chrysler Championship with a 3-wood into 20 feet for eagle on the opening hole, closing with a 4-under 67 for a four-shot victory at Innisbrook that got him into the next two tournaments -- the TOUR Championship next week, and the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship that kicks off the 2007 season.
 
Ernie Els
Ernie Els earned just enough money to qualify for the TOUR Championship.
'I'm very impressed today,' said Choi, who won for the fourth time in his career.
 
No one got within two shots of him on a sunny afternoon on the Copperhead course, which is not to say the final full-field event of the year lacked excitement.
 
Paul Goydos can cancel that trip to Q-school. He was 160th on the money list until he picked a good time to have his best week, closing with a 70 to tie for second with Brett Wetterich. Goydos earned $466,400, the largest paycheck of his career, and moved up to 97th to secure his card for next year.
 
'Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to catch K.J.,' Goydos said. 'The rest of it is pretty sweet.'
 
Vaughn Taylor was in danger of losing an automatic to the Masters by finishing in the top 40 on the money list when he went out in 39. But he shot 30 on the back nine and easily punched his ticket to Augusta National.
 
But the real drama belonged to the Big Easy.
 
A wretched start cost Els any hope of winning for the first time this year, and after more blunders along the back nine, he suddenly was in danger of falling out of the top 30 and missing the TOUR Championship. He had to finish with two pars, or he would have wound up at No. 31 on the money list by $852.
 
He hit into a bunker on the 17th, then saved par by blasting out to 2 feet. Then came the 18th, and a tee shot he hooked so far to the left that it cleared a bunker and the gallery ropes before settling under a cluster of trees. Els hit a terrific punch shot just to find the short grass some 50 yards in front of the green, the pin protected by a steep bunker.
 
'I knew it was going to be tough,' Els said.
 
He made it easy with a pitch that checked up behind the hole, inches away for a tap-in par to shoot 72 and send him to East Lake. The loudest cheer might have come from PGA TOUR commissioner Tim Finchem in Ponte Vedra Beach, especially because the tour's All-Star game will be missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
 
'I bet he was watching,' Els said with a laugh. 'The last two up-and-downs were big. I'll remember those for a long time.'
 
The biggest winner was Choi.
 
He started using a new driver last week that not only is square, but sounds like someone swatting an empty cola can upon contact. Els played with Choi on Saturday and compared the sound to a tuna can attached to a shaft.
 
But no one could made fun of his results.
 
He kept the ball in play when it mattered, and never let anyone get close to his lead. Choi finished at 13-under 271 for his second victory at Innisbrook; he won by seven shots in 2002.
 
Choi still had to go home to Houston for parent-teacher meetings at school, but he now gets a spot at the TOUR Championship, and at Kapalua to start next year. Asked which one he was more excited about, Choi mentioned his 11-under 62 on the Plantation Course at Kapalua that is still the course record.
 
Goydos is going to Hawaii, too, but he has to wait an extra week for the Sony Open. That beats what had been his next scheduled event, the six-round grind of Q-school. He never expected this, attributing his position on the money list to poor play.
 
'I shot a billion at Disney last week,' he said. 'My expectations were to miss the Halloween party by making the cut, and then building on a few things for Q-school.'
 
As he walked off the 18th green, he looked at tournament director Gerald Goodman and said, 'I was going to beg you for a sponsor's exemption next year.'
 
Now, Goydos can play wherever he wants as the PGA TOUR embarks on its new FedExCup competition.
 
There were other winners along the money chain.
 
Troy Matteson was 172nd on the money list six weeks ago until he went on a tear, finishing in the top 10 every week and winning in Las Vegas. He tied for ninth at Innisbrook and wound up 36th on the money list to earn his first trip to Augusta National.
 
'This is a tournament I would think I'd play maybe a couple times in my career,' Matteson said. 'To have made it my first year on TOUR ... I may have to stew on this one a couple of days. It's really exciting.'
 
Also earning a Masters invitation was Camilo Villegas, the rookie from Colombia, who closed with a 69. Missing out was Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who was No. 40 going into Innisbrook but shot 76-75 on the weekend and slipped to No. 42.
 
Mark Calcavecchia, moved into the top 125, and while he was exempt next year because of his '05 Canadian Open victory, this puts him into The Players Championship next year.
 
Darren Clarke finished at No. 125 by $2,673 over Rich Beem, who is exempt from his '02 PGA Championship. Except for Goydos, the only player who could have knocked out Clarke on the last day was Duffy Waldorf, who was No. 131. He needed at least a 67 but shot 72.
 
It was much easier to keep track of the tournament.
 
Choi's eagle sent him to a three-shot lead that he kept throughout the front nine, and he opened the back nine with an approach into 2 feet for birdie. He made pars the rest of the way, finishing with a birdie.
 
Els, meanwhile, never looked more relieved shooting 72 to squander a chance to win. At least he can try again next week at East Lake.
 
'I'll be the happiest guy there,' Els said. 'Normally you go there like it's no big deal. But this was hard work.'
 
Related Links:
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