Choi Holds on to Win at Sony Open

By Associated PressJanuary 13, 2008, 5:00 pm
HONOLULU, Hawaii - K.J. Choi had to work harder than he imagined to become the Sony Open champion everyone expected.
 
Equipped with a four-shot lead, Choi struggled in blustery conditions Sunday at Waialae Country Club and held off a late charge by Rory Sabbatini to close with a 1-over 71, the first Sony Open champion in 41 years with a final round over par.
 
That was more a testament to the wind that caused palm trees to sway and made birdies scarce. Sabbatini managed six of them in a spirited run at Choi, but he three-putted the final hole for par from 65 feet for a 68, leaving him three shots behind.
 
Choi won for the seventh time on the PGA TOUR, and for the fourth consecutive season. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh are the only other players with active streaks that long.
 
But it wasn't easy until the end. Choi didn't make his first birdie until the final hole when the outcome was no longer in doubt. He finished at 14-under 266 and earned $954,000.
 
Sabbatini started six shots behind, took a double bogey on No. 8, and still managed to make a game of it.
 
He had six birdies, the final one a sand wedge to 4 feet on the 16th to get within two shots, as Choi was struggling to make par three groups behind him. Choi settled down with a par from just off the 16th green, a chip that caught part of the cup on the 17th, and breathing room when he stepped on the 18th tee with a two-shot lead.
 
Jerry Kelly closed with a bogey-free 67 to finish alone in third.
 
The last Sony Open champion to close with a round over par was Dudley Wysong, who beat Billy Casper in a playoff in 1967. Conditions had been mostly calm all week, but the wind gusted across Waialae all day, and only eight players broke par.
 
'Being lulled to sleep for three days made it tougher,' Kelly said. 'If we would have been facing this all week, we might have seen more rounds like that. I'll tell you, I'd hate to be a rookie and just all of a sudden see this place Sunday.'
 
One such rookie was Tim Wilkinson, the 29-year-old from New Zealand playing in only his third PGA TOUR event, and starting off in the final group with Choi after a third-round 62. Wilkinson started off with a bogey and it went badly from there. He shot 78 to tie for 25th.
 
Choi only had two birdie putts inside 15 feet in the final round, both on the par 5s. He missed a 3 1/2 -footer on No. 9 that gave the field hope, and made the last one that only determined the margin of victory.
 
Choi, a 37-year-old from South Korea, became the first outright wire-to-wire winner at the Sony Open since Paul Azinger in 2000.
 
Steve Stricker birdied the last hole for a 70 and finished in a tie for fourth with Stephen Marino (72), Pat Perez (70) and Kevin Na, who made eagle on the final hole for a 72. Stricker started his year with consecutive top 5s.
 
Sabbatini can't complain about his start, either.
 
'All things considered, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season,' he said.
 
Sabbatini knew he would need help from Choi, and the South Korean nearly obliged except for a putter that bailed him out early.
 
Choi holed a 12-foot putt to save par on the opening hole. He couldn't reach the green from the thick rough on No. 2, but again escaped with par with a pitch from 60 yards and a 12-foot putt. After he pulled his tee shot left of the bunker on the par-3 fourth, he came up short and into the sand, and had to make an 8-foot putt for bogey.
 
Fortunately for him, no one was making a run.
 
Sabbatini's bid was slowed when his 2-iron off the tee at No. 8 struck a tree and dropped into a hazard, leading to double bogey. That put him put him six shots behind, but he kept plugging away, trying to keep it close, hopeful of Choi making a mistake.
 
It was a little of both.
 
Sabbatini bounced back with a birdie on the par-5 ninth and a 10-foot birdie on the 11th, and he was back in the picture for good when his 35-foot birdie on the 13th bang into the back of the cup.
 
That's where Choi added some drama into the final round. It looked like he would finish the 13th with another two-putt par until he missed from 3 feet -- his first three-putt of the tournament. Sabbatini dropped another shot on the 15th, but showed no quit with a brilliant approach to a front pin on the 16th to 4 feet.
 
His hopes ended with a shot into the sun that he never saw, the ball landing at the back end of the green some 65 feet away for eagle. Sabbatini left it 8 feet short and missed that to the right.
 
Kelly had a remarkable bogey-free round, and the consolation was a third-place finish. Kelly came into the week at No. 64 in the world ranking, and he will move into the mid-50s with only four weeks before the deadline to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
'I'm aware of that, but I'm not worried about it,' Kelly said. 'I've always paid too much attention to everything. I'm trying to get away from the future and the past, because I've handled both of them poorly.'
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Sony Open in Hawaii
  • GOLF CHANNEL Airtimes
  • Getty Images

    Ryu thriving again after simple advice from Inbee Park

    By Randall MellJune 21, 2018, 7:07 pm

    So Yeon Ryu shared Rolex Player of the Year honors last year.

    She reigned as world No. 1 for almost five months.

    So when she couldn’t keep her momentum going at year’s start, she got frustrated. She wasn’t happy with two top 10s in her first 11 starts.

    “I lost a lot of confidence at the beginning of the year,” Ryu said Thursday as she prepared to lead a strong field as the defending champion in Friday’s start of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. “My expectation level was way too high.”

    So she sought the counsel of her pal, world No. 1 Inbee Park, who gave her some plain-spoken advice.


    Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


    “Get over it,” Park told her. “You know what to do. You’ve done it, so it’s not really a big deal. Don’t worry about it. You were No. 1. You’ve achieved a lot of things as a professional golfer. Just don’t be too hard on yourself.”

    Ryu got over it winning the Meijer LPGA Classic last week, the sixth LPGA title of her career, her third in 15 months. She’s feeling good again leading a stellar field this week at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Ark., a strong tune up before next week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the year’s third major championship.

    World No. 1 Park, No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson are among the top nine players in the world scheduled to compete this week. Twenty-four of the top 30 are in the field.

    “When you come to defend your title, you obviously have a lot of pressure, but after I won last week, now I sort of think, maybe I have a chance to defend my title,” Ryu said. “So I've got total confidence, by last week.”

    Getty Images

    Watch: Spieth, JT hole bunker shots in back-to-back groups

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 21, 2018, 6:57 pm

    Jordan Spieth has a thing for holing bunker shots at the Travelers Championship, where he made one in a playoff to win last year.

    He did it again in Round 1 at TPC River Highlands, knocking in this shot for eagle at the par-5 sixth to reach 4 under par for the tournament



    In the next group, Justin Thomas did the same thing to reach 1 under. Keep an eye out for the best part of this highlight, when Thomas' caddie Jimmy Johnson tries to hand him his putter.

    Getty Images

    River Highlands a 'breather' for Zach Johnson (63)

    By Will GrayJune 21, 2018, 6:43 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After enduring the pressure-cooker of the U.S. Open, Zach Johnson was more than happy to drift north to the friendly confines of TPC River Highlands.

    Birdies were rare last week at Shinnecock Hills, but they’ll be plentiful all week long at the Travelers Championship. Browned-out and crispy conditions transitioned to lush and verdant, and players can attack flags without fear of turning a possible par into a struggle to avoid triple.

    Johnson did just that in the opening round, carding eight birdies against a single bogey to take the early lead with a 7-under 63.

    “It’s a different kind of breathing. It’s a different kind of exhaling, if you will, but they’re both good,” Johnson said. “You can put some red on the board here. We know that. We’ve seen it. You can go the other way in a hurry if you press it; it can keep going in the other way. So you kind of have to let it happen. This is one of those courses where you have to let it happen.”


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    Like many in this week’s field, Johnson took it easy after a grueling major championship, staying away from the course Monday and easing into his prep over the next two days. Those decisions paid off quickly as he rattled off six straight birdies on Nos. 11-16 to take sole possession of the lead.

    While Johnson tied for 12th last week at Shinnecock Hills, that was just his second top-15 finish since the Sony Open in January. But the veteran is no stranger to fast starts at TPC River Highlands, having now opened with 65 or better four times in his last eight appearances dating back to 2011.

    It’s a course where he continues to have success, even if his past consistency hasn’t lived up to expectations.

    “I feel like every time I get here it feels like I should shoot nothing, and it bites me,” Johnson said. “The last couple years I’m like, ‘All right, you can’t have any expectations in that regard. You’ve just got to go out and execute, you know, put the ball in the fairway and you will have opportunities.’” 

    Getty Images

    First photos from Norman's 'Body' shoot

    By Grill Room TeamJune 21, 2018, 6:35 pm

    It was revealed earlier this week that Greg Norman would be one of the athletes showcased in ESPN's "Body Issue," which features the models stategically posed in the nude.

    Well, the first photos are out from Norman's shoot and ... here they are, if you want them.