Choi just keeps plugging along at the Masters

Amid all the prominent names on the Masters leaderboard, there’s

one player who just doesn’t seem to fit.

Still right in the title mix after his third straight sub-par

round – even if no one seemed to notice – South Korea’s K.J. Choi

heads into Sunday’s finale at Augusta National just four strokes

off the lead. He’s right in the middle of a star-studded board that

includes three of the top four in the world golf rankings, No. 1

Tiger Woods, No. 3 Phil Mickelson and No. 4 Lee Westwood, plus

sentimental favorite Fred Couples.

“I’m really having a good time this week,” said Choi, who shot

a 2-under 70 that left him four strokes off Westwood’s pace, three

behind Mickelson and tied for third with Woods. “I feel good right

now, and I’m just going to keep to my routine and just keep on

praying. You never know how this tournament is going to

finish.”

Choi has been paired all three rounds with Woods, and they’ve

matched each other virtually stroke for stroke. They’re both at

8-under 208, so they’ll get to play together one more time – in the

most important round of all.

“Unbelievable, absolutely fantastic,” said Choi, ranked 43rd

in the world. “I’m used to him after three rounds, so having the

same pairing is fantastic.”

The South Korean made only five bogeys over the first three

rounds. He’s not doing anything all that spectacular, but he’s not

made any major mistakes, either.

That’s how he had hoped it would go, especially when he learned

he’d play with Woods the first two rounds. The world’s best player

was coming off a five-month layoff and a humiliating sex scandal,

so no one would be paying much attention to Choi.

That was again the case Saturday, when Augusta National was in

an uproar as spectacular shots kept falling all over the back nine.

Mickelson made back-to-back eagles. Woods ripped off three straight

birdies to get back in contention. The 50-year-old Couples and

Ricky Barnes both holed out chips.

Choi was quietly doing some good work, too.

“He’s great,” Woods said. “I’ve played with him a lot over

the years. K.J. is just a great guy, and on top of that he’s

learned a lot of English. Our conversations are getting a little

bit longer now.”

Over the first three rounds Choi is even on the front side, but

has played the back at a combined 8 under. Does he need to be more

aggressive on the opening holes Sunday?

“I don’t know,” Choi replied. “Hopefully I can hit the tee

shots and get going a couple of holes and made birdies early, get

off to a good start.”

When Augusta National announced the pairings for Thursday and

Friday, Choi welcomed the idea of playing with Woods, saying he

enjoyed big crowds and didn’t mind if fans were mostly focused on

his playing partner.

But Choi has won over the crowds with his relaxed demeanor, and

he keeps himself calm by praying and singing religious hymns.

“The fans are really showing their love equally to everybody,

especially to me,” he said. “Every hole, I feel like the crowds,

they are supporting me as well. It’s just been a very comfortable

week.”

If he can again put together something along the lines of his

opening 67, he might just steal away that green jacket from all

this big-name rivals.

“Everybody is playing so well right now. It’s really hard to

determine at this stage what the winning score is going to be and

who’s going to come out on top.

“I’m just going to get some good rest and get prepared.”