K.J. Choi wins AT&T National

Posted: July 08, 2007

BETHESDA, Md. - Growing up in South Korea, K.J. Choi learned golf by studying instructional books and videos by Jack Nicklaus, whose Memorial Tournament he won five weeks ago.

Today when he holed out from a bunker for a birdie at the 17th hole that virtually assured his victory at the AT&T National, Choi did a fist pump familiar to even casual golf fans.

Did he learn that bit of theatrics from the tournament host, Tiger Woods?

"No," Choi said with a laugh, "[it] came out naturally."

No more naturally than the victory itself at Congressional Country Club - Choi's second this year and his sixth in an eight-year career that has seen him become a superstar back home while remaining largely unheralded in America.

Choi overcame three bogeys on the back nine to shoot a 2-under 68 for a 9-under total and a 3-shot win over Steve Stricker in the inaugural tournament.

Besides the $1.08 million first-place check, Choi, 37, who lives outside Houston, jumped to No. 4 on the PGA Tour money list ($3.2 million) and in the FedEx Cup points race. He also assured himself a spot on the international team for this fall's Presidents Cup.

Which is a bigger win for Choi, Nicklaus' tournament or Woods'?

Choi smiled. "This week's trophy is a lot heavier than Jack's trophy, if that means anything," Choi, who speaks halting English, said through an interpreter.

After Stricker, there was a three-way tie for third at 3 under between Pat Perez (67), Jim Furyk (69) and third-round leader Stuart Appleby, who faded with a 76.

At the start of the day, heat, humidity and a little suspense hung in the air. Who would win Woods' first tournament?

When Woods, 7 shots off the lead, stepped onto the first tee, he was met by a couple of U.S. Marines in full-dress uniform and a large gallery, appreciative that he had brought the PGA Tour back to the Washington, D.C., area.

When Woods smashed his opening tee shot 309 yards up the left side, the hoots and howls of amazement echoed in every direction.

Woods never would mount a serious challenge, however. In fact, early on, instead of a charge, he faded, carding two bogeys and a double bogey on the front nine for an outward 38.

On the back nine, with his round having become little more than a victory tour for having pulled together the tournament in 116 days, Woods found something that had been missing earlier. He carded four birdies, capping his round with a birdie-birdie finish.

Afterward, except for the fact that he didn't get the "W," Woods called it a "perfect week." As the tournament host, he admitted he wasn't crazy about having to hand the trophy to somebody else.

"I don't like it," said Woods, who carded a 70 and finished at 2 under. "But, then again, the guys up there on the board are all friends of mine."

While Woods mounted no charge, Appleby, who began the day at 9 under with a 2-shot lead over Choi, wilted.

His undoing began before he could build any momentum, at No. 2, a 232-yard par 3, where his tee shot went way left. When he hit a decent recovery shot only to three-putt for a double bogey, he handed a Choi a gift-wrapped share of the lead at 7 under.

After that, he was done. Appleby left the course without comment.

Meanwhile, Choi, his playing partner in the final pairing, was playing steady, heady golf, bagging a pair of front-nine birdies to reach 9 under.

By then, it had become a two-man struggle between Choi and Stricker, who ran off four birdies on the front nine to reach 9 under. He faded, however, with three bogeys on the back nine, finishing with a 70.

Meanwhile, Choi was offsetting his three bogeys with three birdies. It was all he needed.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.

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