Choi wins Players Championship title

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Choi wins Players Championship title


Choi Kyung-ju celebrates his par putt to defeat David Toms on the first playoff hole at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. [AFP/YONHAP]

Korean golfer Choi Kyung-ju beat David Toms in a sudden-death playoff in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. on Sunday to become the first Asian to win the The Players Championship tournament.

Choi made par on the first playoff hole at TPC Sawgrass while Toms missed his own par putt on the 17th hole to give the Korean his first title since the 2008 Sony Open in Hawaii.

It was also his eighth career PGA title, the most among Asian golfers.

The victory brought Choi a $1.71 million prize, making him the No. 3 earner this season with $2.91 million in total winnings.

Choi, who turns 41 on Thursday, had a tight schedule on the final day. He was forced to finish the third round on Sunday morning because rain had delayed play on Saturday.

Despite worries about his stamina, Choi successfully played the remaining eight holes of the third round and finished at 11-under par before entering the final round tied with Toms just one stroke behind leader Graeme McDowell. But McDowell stumbled in the final round with a series of bogeys and Choi and Toms pretty much matched each other shot for shot.

Choi looked as if he was going to seal the victory on his second go-around of the 17th hole Sunday when he sank a 10-foot birdie to lead Toms by one shot. But the 44-year-old American dropped a 17-foot birdie on the 18th hole to extend the tournament. Both players finished the final round with a 2-under 70 and a 13-under 275 overall to force the fourth playoff in Players Championship history.

On his third time at the par-three 17th, which is notorious for surrounding water hazards, Choi hit his tee shot to within 41 feet from the hole. But Toms got even closer, just 19 feet from the cup. Both players rolled the ball three feet past the hole, but it was Choi who finally sank a putt without going over par.

Ilgan Sports, the JoongAng Ilbo’s daily sports newspaper, was at the post-tournament press conference.

Q. How do you feel after winning the championship?

A. It was a long day. Because I had to play the rest of the holes from the third round, I needed to balance my stamina and thought I shouldn’t give up. It’s the most priceless victory of my life.

You once lived near a golf course. Did that help you?

When I came here in 1999, I couldn’t get under par at TPC Sawgrass. I was thinking I would be lucky to just make the cut, but it’s a miracle that I won a title here being under par. I practiced a lot here, which helped, and I thank God for the victory.

How difficult was it to play the 17th hole three times in one day?

The 17th hole is surrounded by water. Whether short or long, the ball [can go] into the water. I can’t control a ball that’s already off my club. Only God can protect it. It’s not easy to put the ball where I want, but I just pray and play.

How many times have you been in a playoff?

I have mostly won titles when leading in the final round, but I probably played an extra round twice in my career. I remember I lost to Choi Sang-ho 15 years ago at the Donghae Open.

You spent a long time with caddie Andy Prodger. How did he help?

Andy is like family. He always makes me laugh and encourages me with positive thoughts when the game isn’t going well. I thought I’d finish second when I had to lay up in the 16th hole, but Andy said to me “Don’t be negative, you never know what’s going to happen,” and with his support, I thought I could win.

You won this title in your 40s. What’s your advice to young golfers?

You need to stick to the lifestyle. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the scheduled time and practice every day. You need to live your life systematically and be humble. I feel proud that I’ve been able to maintain that life.

By Joo Kyung-don, Sung Ho-jun []

한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]

최경주 우승소감 “캐디 격려가 큰 힘이 됐다”

-초이스 보이스(Choi's bois) 셔츠를 입은 사람들이 응원했다. 한국에서도 봤느냐.

"이번 주 많이 방송에 나가 한국에도 생길 것 같다. 멀리서 비행기를 타고 날아와 응원해주신 분들이라 고맙고 힘이 된다. 경기 끝나고 사진 찍자고 했다."

-경기장 근처에 산 적이 있는데 우승하는데 도움이 됐는가.

"1999년 이 곳에 살 때 나는 소그래스 TPC에서 언더파를 칠 실력이 안됐다. 한국에서는 실내에서 연습했기 때문에 바람에 적응할 수도 없었다. 플레이어스 챔피언십은 우승은커녕 컷통과라도 했으면 정말 좋겠다는 생각을 하고 했는데 이 코스에서 계속 언더파를 치고 우승할 수 있었던 것은 기적이다. 이곳에 살 때 무지막지하게 연습한 것이 도움이 됐고 하나님께 감사할 일이다.

-오늘 32홀이나 치고 부담감이 상당히 많은 17번 홀을 3번 하는 것이 얼마나 어려운가.

"17번 홀은 짧아도, 길어도 사방이 다 물이다. 오전엔 벙커 세이브를 했지만 벙커가 없었다면 물에 빠졌을 것이고 더블보기를 했을 것이다. 클럽에서 떠난 공은 내가 컨트롤활 수 없다. 하나님이 보호해주셔야 한다. 내가 원하는 지점에 갔다 놓기가 쉽지 않은데 기도하면서 하는 것이다."

-젊은 선수들이 많이 올라오고 있다. 40대가 되어서도 우승하는 당신이 주는 메시지는 뭔가.

"올바른 생활이다. 아침, 점심, 저녁을 잘 챙겨 먹고 연습을 매일 하고 관리를 한다. 그런 정신이 있기 때문에 충분히 할 수 있다는 마음가짐을 가지고 있고 후배들에게도 그런 얘기를 해준다. 삶을 열심히 체계적으로 살아야 하고 겸손한 생각도 해야 한다. 그런 마음을 가지고 있다는 것에 자부심을 가진다."

-연장전을 얼마나 했나.

선두로 가면 거의 우승을 다 했었고. 2번쯤 했는데 15년 전 신한동해에서 최상호 선배에게 한 번 졌던 기억이 있다.

-캐디인 앤디 프로저와 오랫동안 함께했다. 도움이 되는가.

"앤디는 내 마누라, 혹은 형 같다. 게임이 잘 안 풀려도 웃음을 하게 하는 위트가 있고 항상 꿈과 희망을 준다. 처져 있어도 할 수 있다는 긍정적인 마음을 준다. 16번 홀에서 레이업을 하면서 오늘은 이대로(2등으로) 끝나려나라고 생각했는데 그가 '그렇지 않다. 여기서 어떨헤 될 지 모른다'고 격려해 준 덕에 이길 수 있었다."

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