Big Easy makes Choi feel at home

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Big Easy makes Choi feel at home

HOUSTON - Eight years have passed since Choi Kyung-ju became the first Korean to win a PGA Tour title but he retains fond memories of that breakthrough as he prepares for this week’s edition of the same event.

Choi, the son of a rice farmer, won the 2002 New Orleans Classic by four shots and has since gone on to clinch six more victories on the highly competitive U.S. circuit.

“I still remember feeling very excited, thrilled,” the 39-year-old told reporters on the eve of yesterday’s opening round at the TPC Louisiana in Avondale, Louisiana.

“I felt like all the hairs on my back were standing up when I won that tournament. It was very special. Even though this course is different from English Turn, the fact that it’s being held in New Orleans brings back that same atmosphere and aura.”

English Turn Golf and Country Club staged the New Orleans Classic until 2005, when the TPC Louisiana took over for four of the next five years.

“I have a lot of fan support here,” said Choi, who has been the dominant Asian male golfer for the last five or six years. “There is a great Korean community and I feel at home here. New Orleans has a special place in my heart.”

Choi has not won on the PGA Tour since his wire-to-wire victory at the 2008 Sony Open but has come close this season with top-four finishes at the Tampa Bay Championship and the U.S. Masters. At the Masters, he played all four rounds with world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who made his highly anticipated return to competition after a five-month break following a sex scandal.

“I tried my best to make him feel comfortable so that he wouldn’t feel awkward,” said Choi, speaking through an interpreter. “We had a very good time playing together. We both appreciated each other’s presence.

“Playing with him every single day in that environment helped me adapt more to that situation and at the same time still focus on my game. In that environment, a lot of players are going to feel intimidated and will probably lose focus. But I hung in there very well and I actually felt more comfortable each day.”

Choi and Woods both closed with matching 69s at Augusta National to share fourth place.

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