Choi topples Toms in Players play-off

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KJ Choi has dramatically reeled in and beaten David Toms in a play-off to win the Players Championship.

South Korea’s KJ Choi has come from behind, reeled in overnight leader David Toms and then beaten the American on the first extra hole of their sudden-death play-off to clinch a dramatic first win at the Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass in Florida.

The victory, 40-year-old Choi’s biggest ever and his eighth on the US PGA Tour, strengthened the tough former paratrooper’s claim to being Asia’s most successful winner ever in the US and kept the Americans out of the winning spot for a fourth successive year.

Spain’s Sergio Garcia (2008), Sweden’s Henrik Stenson (2009) and South Africa’s Tim Clark (2010), who was forced to withdraw during the first round this year with an on-going elbow injury, are the three Players Champions whom Choi succeeded.

Choi, who, earlier in the event had seen fellow countryman YE Yang, the 2009 PGA Champion miss the cut, held his nerve to make par on the treacherous 17th hole after Toms, seeking his first win on the Tour for more than five years, had three-putted from 18 feet.

That had put Choi one shot clear heading down the last after Toms, who was still one-shot up teeing off at the 16th, had bogeyed this long par-five hole when he found water with his second shot and had fallen back into a tie with Choi.

Toms wasn’t finished, though. He hit back with an ice-cool 20-foot birdie putt at the last to tie it all up on 13-under and force the play-off.

In the meantime Graeme McDowell, three clear with one to play when completing the delayed third round earlier in the day, had double-bogeyed the 18th and then, shades of fellow countryman Rory McIlroy in the Masters, imploded in the final round, blowing himself out of the contest with a closing 79, the worst round of the day and just one worse than McIlroy’s closing 80 at Augusta.

McDowell, trying to add what is often referred to as golf’s unofficial fifth major to his US Open win last summer, eventually finished in 33rd place after his nightmare final round.

Choi, whose tight control of his iron shots was perhaps his greatest strength, has not always looked as nerveless in a final round as he did in the biggest win of his career. And he was well aware of it.

He said: “The back nine is really difficult and puts a lot of pressure on you, but for some reason today I felt very comfortable out there.

“I’ve worked with my swing coach Steve Bann for over six years now and we’ve gone through a lot of work together.

“The swing that I have right now doesn’t really break down under pressure situations.”

In the meantime, the luckless Toms, who won the US PGA Championship in 2001 but, in a spell troubled by injury, has not won in 124 starts since Hawaii in 2006, was left hunting to find some positives to take away from Sawgrass.

“It is disappointing, to be sure, but I did hang in there,” he said.

“I was very happy with the way I held up on the 31 holes I played today.

“With the lead or being around the lead the whole time, it’s tough when you haven’t been there in a while and when you haven’t played this golf course well.

“Obviously, three-putting in the play-off wasn’t what I’d like to do, but I thought I’d made the first put.

“I was probably thinking ahead and thinking about the next hole, and I just got up there and missed it.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in this position, to be in the lead on a tough golf course, it shows I can still do it.

“I need to work on putting, if I had putted well I could have put a bit of distance between myself and the others.”

Graeme McDowell , who earlier in the week had said he believed the swing problems that had plagued his game this year were behind him, declared after his meltdown: “That last round was up there in my top 10 worst last rounds ever so that is going to hurt a little bit of course.”

“To be honest I felt I ran out of steam a little bit. After bogeys on six and seven I felt the energy sucked right out of me. I went flat and everything I tried to do went a little wrong.

“I felt my legs were a little tired this afternoon. I was up at 4.35am (to play the last 12 holes of his third round), but it was the same for everybody, there are no excuses.

“I didn’t have the energy levels to pick myself up and I tried to force the issue a little bit. I went chasing and this course will do that to you.

This is going to hurt for a few hours, but we will move on quickly.”

McDowell, who came into the event on the back of three missed cuts in his four previous starts, added: “I said that no matter what happened over the weekend, I was going to take away some really big positives and I have.”

Another seasoned American, Paul Goydos, shot his third 69 of the week to finish third, two shots behind Choi and Toms, and claim his second top three finish at the Players in the past four years.

Two of the brightest young talents on either side of the Atlantic, American Nick Watney and Britain’s Luke Donald, tied for fourth, three shots off the lead.

Donald earned his seventh consecutive top ten finish on the PGA Tour and it hoisted him to number two in the world behind fellow Englishman Lee Westwood.

TOP 10 LEADERBOARD

275 K J Choi (Kor) 70 68 67 70 (K J Choi won at the first play-off hole), David Toms 66 68 71 70

277 Paul Goydos 69 70 69 69

278 Nick Watney 64 71 72 71, Luke Donald (Eng) 69 67 71 71

279 Aaron Baddeley (Aus) 70 67 70 72, Hunter Mahan 70 67 73 69, J.B. Holmes 68 69 73 69, Jason Dufner 69 70 68 72, Alvaro Quiros (Spa) 67 73 68 71, Jason Day (Aus) 69 70 72 68

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