Choi triumphs in own tournament

K.J. Choi claimed a convincing two-stroke victory in his own tournament, the inaugural CJ Invitational, in Korea on Sunday.

Korean star K.J. Choi claimed a convincing two-stroke victory in his own tournament, the inaugural CJ Invitational after closing with a five-under-par 67 on Sunday.

The 41-year-old Choi overcame an overnight three-shot deficit with an outward 34 before taking a firm grip of the US$750,000 tournament, sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Korean Golf Tour, with three birdies on the homeward nine in front of large galleries at the Haesley Nine Bridges Golf Club.

Asian Tour number one Noh Seung-yul of Korea put up a strong fight before settling for second place following a final round 66 while American star Anthony Kim and overnight leader Lee Ki-sang of Korea settled for a share of third place following rounds of 73 and 74 respectively.

It was Choi’s second victory of the season following his triumph in the Players Championship in the United States and his fifth career title on the Asian Tour where he is an Honorary Member.

“This week, I had so much things going on. I didn’t really think about the win. I was busy looking after the players and taking care of the sponsors. Probably the fact that I wasn’t thinking about the tournament helped me feel at ease. The way it turned out, I’m happy to be the inaugural champion and even though I am hosting this event, it gives a special meaning,” said Choi, who totaled 17-under-par 271 and pocketed US$118,875.

After tying a faltering Lee at the turn with three straight birdies from the third hole against one dropped shot, Choi surged into the lead with a four-foot birdie on 10 but had to make two crucial par saves on 11 and 15 to preserve his advantage. He then opened up a two-shot cushion with a superb 20-feet curling putt on 16 which he held on till the end despite a late challenge from Noh.

“I’m so happy. We were very successful and this was a first-class tournament in Asia,” said Choi, who is an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour.

“That putt on 15 (for par), the pin has been in the middle all week. I knew the speed. I just hit it two feet inside and made it. It was very exciting. This first CJ Invitational and winning this, I’m very proud.”

The 20-year-old Noh was near flawless as he charged up the leaderboard with six birdies but he failed to get the crucial putts to drop down the stretch as he settled for his best finish of the season.

“I played very nice. But I missed a couple of good chances. I was one behind after my birdie on 14. I had good chances on the last four holes but just missed the putts. I had a good birdie chance from five feet on 18 and thought if I made the birdie, I would be one shot behind and it would make K.J. a bit nervous on the second shot into the last green but I missed the putt,” said Noh.

Three-time PGA Tour winner Kim never got his game firing on a day when the final round was delayed by two hours because of morning fog. After missing chances on the front nine, a double bogey on the ninth hole when he drove into the hazard put paid to his hopes of ending his two-year winless run.

“It was a tough day. I tried everything I could. The ball didn’t want to go into the hole. But K.J. played amazing. He made the putts when he needed to. Hats off to him,” said Kim.

“It really wasn’t nine (which stopped him). The putt on eight, if it went in, maybe the drive on nine would have been different. But it was a tough day overall. It was a great week and K.J. put on a great tournament and the fans came out and showed support. Hopefully I can come back next year and put on a better show,” said Kim.

CJ Group, Korea’s food-to-entertainment conglomerate, has a three-year agreement to title sponsor the tournament which was beamed live on the Asian Tour’s global television platform which reaches over 200 countries and 850 million homes. It was broadcasted on KBS and J-Golf channel.