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.

Then again, K.J. Choi has been there all three rounds.

No reason for him to go away now.

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

even if no one seemed to notice – the South Korean 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 has been steady as can be, making 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 sort of 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 it figured that 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 doing some good work, too – not that anyone seemed to

notice.

“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.”

Choi rolled in a birdie at the signature 12th hole, took

advantage of both par-5s on the back side and finished with a

string of pars. 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 that were sure to follow their every step and

didn’t mind if the patrons 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.

“I think 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 put together a dazzling round Sunday, maybe something

along the lines of his opening 67, he might just steal away that

green jacket from all this big-name rivals.

Choi isn’t sure what it will take to win his first major

title.

“No idea,” he said. “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.”