HONOLULU – 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.
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.
KJ despite his ‘struggles’ never saw his lead fall to less than two shots yesterday. So much if not all of the final round drama was created by The Golf Channel who broadcast the event. At no time did KJ look like he was going to lose it.
TGC also spent much of the broadcast hyping KJ’s accomplishments. Yesterday’s Hawaiian Open was his 7th tour triumph and third in less than a year. I like KJ, but he isn’t the male Korean coming of Se Ri Pak. Korean men, both because of required military service and family pressure to have a steady career, aren’t likely to begin pursuing pro golf careers. Korean women, who don’t face the pressures men do in the ROK, have an easier or more supportive climate when it comes to playing pro golf. The impact Korean golf queen Se Ri Pak has had on her country, has been almost entirely centered on women not men. KJ is unlikely to have a similar effect. Though he could have a poor man’s Vijay Singh like career at his current age(37, 38 in May).
BTW I believe a strong argument can be made for Se Ri Pak having the biggest impact on pro golf of any active player today. She was a pioneer in bringing over 40 South Korean ladies to the LPGA tour and starting a golf craze among young women of Koreans descent in both the ROK and the US. Close to home in addition to Michelle Wie, you have Kimberly Kim(Aka K2) former US amateur champ, Sukjin Lee-Wuesthoff former US girls champ, and more on their way up. The Pak effect will seen on women’s professional golf for at least a generation. Tiger has great popularity and has brought more money and exposure to the PGA Tour, but there are few golfers(minority or otherwise) in their teens or 20′s in the US who impress at this moment.
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