Choi expects tough course

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Choi expects tough course

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Golfers practice putting on the 10th hole during a practice round before the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Monday. [REUTERS/YONHAP]


Of the eight Korean golfers expected to compete at the 111th U.S. Open this week in Bethesda, Md., none are positioned to win quite as well as veteran Choi Kyung-ju.

The 41-year-old Choi, who has had prior success on the Congressional golf course with a 9-under par win at the 2007 AT&T National, is considered by many to have a shot at winning the title. But just because the location is familiar doesn’t mean the course and conditions will be.

Choi, who is widely known as K.J. Choi on the PGA Tour, says he expects Congressional to be tougher than usual.

“The course definitely plays different than when I won in 2007,’’ Choi said to The Associated Press on Monday after a practice round. “The tee shot ... when you’re standing on the tee box, the holes played different. You have to attack differently.”

That’s because the course has been lengthened to 7,574 yards, holes have been altered, greens have been rebuilt to be faster and the roughs are extremely dense. No easy task for the uninitiated.

Still, golf experts have pointed to Choi as a the dark horse to win the tournament, which has a $7.5 million total purse and $1.35 million first-place prize. The PGA Tour Web site lists Choi ninth in its U.S. Open power rankings - the only Asian in the top 10 - and he is on the rise after winning the Players Championship last month.

Choi has also played in 10 U.S. Opens prior to this year, though he has never finished in the top 10. Choi’s best finish came in 2005 when he tied for 15th at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. The 16th-ranked Choi will tee off today with American Matt Kuchar and England’s Paul Casey.

But it’s not just Choi who is looking to make his mark at Congressional. Seven other Korean golfers and three Korean-Americans have also qualified for the major and are no doubt itching to lift the trophy.

Yang Yong-eun, Kim Kyung-tae, Bae Sang-moon, Kang Sung-hoon, Kim Dae-hyun, Kim Do-hoon and Noh Seung-yul are all hoping to make an impression at this season’s second major tournament. The Korean-American golfers in Bethesda will be Anthony Kim, Kevin Na and David Chung.

They too get to face what is now the second-longest course in U.S. Open history after Torrey Pines in San Diego (7,643 yards), which held the 2008 event.

Yang, 39, will try to recapture the glory of his 2009 PGA Championship victory - when he became the first Asian to win a major - at this year’s U.S. Open. But he first needs to make the cut, which is something he hasn’t been able to do in his last two outings. Yang tees off with Anthony Kim and Ryo Ishikawa of Japan.

Meanwhile, the road might be more difficult for relative newcomers Noh Seung-yul, Bae Sang-moon, Kang Sung-hoon, Kim Dae-hyun and Kim Do-hoon, who earned their passes to Congressional through regional qualifiers, and Kim Kyung-tae, who captured his spot as last year’s top money earner in Japan.

Among Korean-Americans, Anthony Kim, who won the 2008 AT&T National, could be a contender for a top-10 finish in what will be his fourth U.S. Open.

No Asian golfer has ever won the U.S. Open, though two came close. Isao Aoka of Japan finished second in 1980, two strokes behind 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, while Taiwanese golfer Chen Tze-chung finished runner-up in 1985 with an even par.

And that even par is about what most golfers have been scoring to win this often tight-scoring tournament. Since 2005, only two golfers won the U.S. Open under par - Tiger Woods in 2008 (1-under) and Lucas Glover in 2009 (4-under).


By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]


한글 관련 기사 [일간스포츠]

‘골프는 이븐파가 기본’ US오픈 16일 개막

'언더파는 있을 수 없다. 골프의 기본은 이븐파다.'

골프 메이저대회 중 가장 가혹한 싸움터가 선수들을 맞을 채비를 끝마쳤다. 올 시즌 들어 두 번째 메이저대회인 US오픈이 16일 오후(한국시간) 미국 메릴랜드주 베데스다의 콩그레셔널 골프장에서 막을 올린다. 올해로 111회째를 맞는 US오픈(총상금 750만 달러·우승 상금 135만 달러)에는 세계정상급 선수 156명이 출전해 기량을 겨룬다.

◇어떤 코스에서 치려지나=파71에 코스 전장은 7574야드. 2008년 토리 파인스 골프장의 남코스(7643야드)에 이어 US오픈 역사상 두 번째로 긴 코스에서 펼쳐진다. 코스의 일반 난이도는 77.3타다. 이 코스의 기준 파는 71타인데 최소 77.3타를 쳐야 홀아웃을 할 수 있을 정도로 코스 세팅이 가혹하다는 뜻이다. 대회가 열리는 콩그레셔널 골프장은 좁은 페어웨이와 깊은 러프, 빠르고 딱딱한 그린으로 악명이 높다. 올해 코스의 러프 잔디는 10㎝가량 높게 길러 놓았고, 그린 스피드도 14.5피트까지 높였다.

◇극한의 싸움터로 출격하는 태극전사 11명=특히 올해 대회에는 역대 최다인 한국 및 재미교포 선수 11명이 메이저대회 우승에 도전한다. 지난 5월 제5의 메이저대회인 플레이어스 챔피언십에서 우승한 최경주(41·SK텔레콤)와 2009 PGA 챔피언십 우승자 양용은(39·KB금융그룹)이 앞장서고 김경태(25·신한금융그룹)·배상문(25·우리투자증권)·강성훈(24·신한금융그룹)·김대현(22·하이트) 등 20대 영건들이 가세한다. 최경주가 2007년, 재미교포 앤서니 김(26·나이키골프)이 2008년 이곳에서 열린 AT&T 내셔널의 우승컵을 들어올렸다. 하지만 코스는 그 때와 전혀 다른 '괴물'로 변했다.

◇미국과 유럽 골퍼간의 자존심 싸움=미국의 간판스타인 타이거 우즈가 왼쪽 무릎과 아킬레스건 부상 때문에 출전을 포기한 가운데 펼쳐질 이번 대회는 미국과 유럽 골퍼들 간의 자존심 대결이 한층 가열될 것으로 예상된다. 미국 선수들은 지난해 4월 마스터스 대회에서 필 미켈슨이 우승한 이후 메이저대회에서 한 번도 우승컵을 들어 올리지 못했다. 유럽 쪽에서는 아직 메이저대회 우승이 없는 세계랭킹 1위 루크 도널드, 2위 리 웨스트우드(이상 잉글랜드), 3위 마르틴 카이머(독일)가 강력한 우승후보다.

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