Sports Outside the Beltway

British Open after 36 holes- KJ Choi leads by one shot

The seven-time PGA Tour winner has never finished better than third in a major championship. From AP-

K.J. Choi rolled in a 25-foot birdie on the final hole for a 3-under 67 in more gloom and wind along the Irish Sea, giving him his first lead in a major championship. It will be the second straight year he plays in the final group at the British Open going into the weekend.

But the biggest surprises were right behind him, starting with a pair of British Open champions who once were No. 1 in the world.

Norman barely touched a club in the month leading up to his 26th appearance in golf’s oldest championship. The 53-year-old married tennis great Chris Evert three weeks ago, and a trip to England counts as the tail end of his honeymoon.

He wound up renewing his love affair with links golf, delivering great escapes over his final three holes for an even-par 70 that put his name atop the leaderboard for most of the afternoon until Choi birdied the final two holes.

Choi was at 1-under 139, one shot ahead of Norman.

An argument can be made for Choi as the best player in the world without a major. It will have to be seen if he can hold up over the weekend.

Norman, the 1986 and 1993 British Open Champion, playing well is one of the two biggest surprises so far in the tournament. It will be even a bigger one if he is still around the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. I said the same thing about Rocco Mediate at last month’s US Open, and we all know how that ended.

Choi and Norman will be playing together tomrorrow. When Norman won the 1986 BO, his final round playing partner was Tommy Nakajima. Like Choi, Nakajima was probably the most recognizable Asian player in the world and arguably the region’s best player. Nakajima shot a final round 77 that day in 86, and was not a factor on Sunday as Norman won by 5.

I wish the media would stop talking about Norman’s divorce and then his marriage to Chris Evert. Norman has a home in my end of Florida, I’ve worked hard to avoid this incessant gossip reporting. I want to read about the British Open, not what a player is doing in their private life.

Camillo Villegas is in solo third, two shots back. The group at 142 three strokes behind Choi include Jim Furyk(One of my three picks this week. Stuart Appleby is at 143, Justin Leonard is further back but made the cut), Defending BO Champ Padrig Harrington, Robert Allenby, and 2001 British Open Champ David Duval. Duval’s being contention has to be considered as equally suprising as Greg Norman at this stage. Since his win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 2001, Duval’s career has been in a tailspin.

Time to settle in for a weekend of links golf. There really hasn’t been a boring British Open weekend in some years. Probably the last was Duval’s 2001 triumph. I expect a great deal of leaderboard changes as a result of tomorrow’s round, after all Saturday is ‘moving day’ in professional golf.


Tiger Woods’ tournament to stay at Congressional for 2009

The inaugural AT&T National was played last year and won by KJ Choi. From AP-

BETHESDA, Md. — Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour event will get an extra year at Congressional Country Club.

Congressional announced Thursday that its members have voted to host the AT&T National in 2009. The tournament will essentially replace the 2009 U.S. Amateur, which was moved because of concerns about the conditions at Congressional’s famed Blue Course.

Congressional had originally agreed to host Woods’ tournament in 2007 and 2008. The tournament had a successful debut last year, drawing large crowds during the Fourth of July week.

Woods has said he would like Congressional to be his tournament’s permanent home, but the club already had been awarded the 2009 U.S. Amateur and the 2011 U.S. Open. Ironically, it was last year’s AT&T National that spotlighted the bumpy greens and other problems that prompted the USGA to move the Amateur to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

Woods will likely have to find another venue for 2010 because course improvements will already be under way for the 2011 U.S. Open.

Congressional is one of the four or five best courses to host a PGA Tour event every year. Pebble Beach, Riviera, and Augusta National are the only courses I would rank above it.

Back in the 80′s I attended a couple of Kemper Opens played at Congressional. I’ve seen the course up close.

As for professional major championships, I think Congressional is pretty mediocre. With courses like Pebble Beach, Shinnecock, Winged Foot, Balustrol, Pinehurst, Olympic, Oakland Hills, Southern Hills, Merion, Inverness, to name just some, I have a hard time putting Congressional in the top 20 courses for majors. Hazeltine site of the 1991 US Open, 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships, once said to be only missing 88 acres of corn and a few cows, I think is a superior course compared to Congressinal when it comes to hosting a US major.


KJ Choi wins the ‘Hawaiian’ Sony Open

The South Korean’s victory coming one week after he finished dead last in the Tournament of Champions.

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.


KJ Choi promises to donate Fedex Cup’s 10 million dollar purse to charity if he wins

From AP-

AKRON, Ohio — K.J. Choi can think of 10 million reasons why he wants to win the FedEx Cup, and it adds up to one reason why he might be a sentimental favorite.

“If I’m able to win it, I want to give it all to charity, 100 percent,” Choi said.

The FedEx Cup is a yearlong points race that culminates with four tournaments at the end of the year, with the winner getting $10 million in deferred compensation. Choi was asked what it would feel like to be paired with Tiger Woods in the final group with something that large riding on the outcome. That led him to talk about charity.

“I could think of so many things I could do with that money, so many good things,” Choi said through his agent and interpreter, Michael Yim of IMG. “I want to help a lot of the unfortunate kids around the world. I want to set up my own foundation, like Tiger. Thinking about what I can do with that money, it just motivates me.

“I think I’d be too happy thinking about that to feel any pressure playing with Tiger,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the PGA Championship and the FedEx Cup. It’s just a lot of opportunity for me to do some good deeds for those kids that really need it.”

Choi already has won twice this year, at the Memorial and AT&T National, putting him at No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings.

Another South Korean golfer with a big heart. Remember Mi Hyun Kim’s donation to Kansas tornado victims? KJ has had excellent year in 2007 with two victories so far, but I don’t understand how the Fedex Cup winner is determined. Maybe because I think the Fedex is a dumb gimmick but considering Choi’s standing right now he has to have a chance to win. I do wish KJ good luck in his quest.


Diversity in golf?

Craig Dolch at the Palm Beach Post wrote-

In 2000, there were 19 foreign-born players on the PGA Tour. This season, there are 24 Australians alone.

Want more proof of how international the Tour has become? This year’s Masters, for the first time, will have more foreign players than Americans.

International invasion
Foreign players have steadily increased in number on the PGA Tour this decade:

Year Number
2000 19
2001 48
2002 56
2003 60
2004 71
2005 78
2006 75
2007 76
Source: PGA Tour
More golf
Honda Classic coverage

“That’s an unbelievable stat, for sure,” said one of the foreign players, England’s Justin Rose. “Golf is a growing sport in Europe, and our presence over here is only going to get stronger and stronger.”

The Honda Classic reflects this global shift, with its past two winners non-Americans: England’s Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington of Ireland. That’s quite a change from watching the first 21 Hondas won by U.S. players. Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, now a Jupiter Island resident, ended that streak when he won the 1994 Honda at Weston Hills. Since, six of the past 13 Honda winners have been international players.

So why did the PGA Tour go from being comprised mostly by Americans to a melting pot? Most players say it comes down to two words: world rankings.

In the late 1990s, the PGA Tour started using the world rankings to set the fields for the three lucrative World Golf Championships. This gave foreign players an easier way in to those events, and the prize money that comes with them.

Then, the four major championships soon added world rankings to their entry criteria – anyone in the top 50 gets in. By playing in only those seven tournaments, international players could earn enough money to gain their Tour card and full access to the rest of the events on the PGA Tour.

The money and ease of jet travel have been here for years, so I think the World Golf Championships are part if not most of the cause for more foreign players in the US. Also there are more players like Luke Donald or Carl Pettersson who played college golf in the states. I think that has to have changed the equation also.

In the past players like Greg Norman, David Graham, Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin turned pro in Australia and eventually came to the US to play. Australians have been playing the US or European golf circuits for fifty years. Look at five time British Open Champ Peter Thomson. With the exception of Thomson,(Note Thomson only won one US non-senior title in limited play.) career on the seniors tour was suce these Australians were all very sucessful in the US and lived here also at least on a part-time basis.

While the PGA tour is diverse in Europeans and Australians, there is black hole when it comes to players of color. Other than Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, KJ Choi and Shigeki Maruyama, there are few proven Asian golfers on tour and no blacks on tour.(None that I know of, unless any made it through the last Q school) The LPGA on the other hand features over 40 South Korean players alone but has no blacks either. Are the pro golf tours really diverse?

I think we can still safely say golf is still a game for white men.


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