ANYONE who doubts Asian golfers have the talent to win a Masters title should think again, especially Asian golfers themselves, South Korean star KJ Choi said after an epic run Sunday.Choi grabbed a share of the lead with eventual winner Phil Mickelson with six holes to play, looking calm and composed while final-round rivals sprayed shots across the trees and water of Augusta National Golf Club.
Back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14 after a pace-of-play notice thwarted Choi’s title bid, leaving him in a share of fourth with top-ranked Tiger Woods – his four-day playing partner – on 11-under 277, five strokes behind Mickelson.
But Choi and eighth-placed countryman Yang Yong-Eun, who became the first Asian man to win a major by taking last year’s PGA Championship, produced the first top-10 double ever by Korean men at a major and did it at the Masters.
“In the past it was the mindset of the Asian players that when it comes to the Masters, there was a fear factor there, that we can’t do it,” Choi said.
“But now I hope that this gives motivation for the younger players, other players, that they can do it at big tournaments like the Masters.”
Two South Korean teen talents, US Amateur champion An Byeong-Hun and Asian Amateur champion Han Chang-won, missed the cut in their Masters debut but will have the chance to play their way back for decades.
And Anthony Kim, an American of Korean heritage, made an epic run of his own to finish third on 276 after a final-round 65, building some confidence of his own.
“Just knowing that even without my best stuff I hung in there and I made some putts,” Kim said. “I made some things happen and I feel like if I get the ball in the fairway this is a great golf course for me.”
Choi birdied the par-5 second and eighth holes and the par-3 sixth to make the turn as a contender, then birdied the 10th to grab a share of the lead, but he was undone by a pace of play warning at the 12th.
“It kind of got me mentally,” Choi said.
Choi also backed off of his second shot from a bunker at 13, a misfire that led to a bogey at the par-5 finish to Amen Corner.
“From the bunker you had to hit it perfect on the green to make it trickle down to the hole, but that wasn’t the case,” Choi said. “I hit it a little fat out of the bunker.”
Choi, who battled nagging back injuries last year, has improved mentally and physically this season, qualifying for the Masters two weeks ago by cracking the world rankings top 50.
“My body physically feels much better than last year and I’m thinking very positive,” Choi said. “I think that every week I’m in contention. That’s a big difference. And I’m swinging really great right now.”
Choi was third at the 2004 Masters, what proved to be another multi-man battle for the green jacket on the back nine.
“Definitely it was exciting like 2004, but only this year it was, on a personal level, better for me because my playing level has improved a lot. So I’m more satisfied.
“It was more gratifying for me this year and the fans were very supportive. Just playing with Tiger for the last four days was a very good experience.” — AFP