Tour News

Choi favoured at SK Telekom

(Photo: OneAsia)
INCHEON, Korea, May 14 - Korean great K.J. Choi is hoping to take his Players Championship form into this week's SK Telecom Open as he goes in pursuit of a record fourth title at Sky72's Ocean Course in Incheon, west of the capital.

Choi finished tied for 13th at last week's Players Championship -- a tournament he won in 2011 -- and he feels his game is coming together at just the right time as he chases a first OneAsia title to go with the 20 others he has won around the world.

"I am pretty happy with the way I am playing at the moment; Sunday in particular was very good," he said, referring to the day's-low round of 65 he shot at TPC Sawgrass in Florida at the weekend.

"It was the best final round I have had for a long time, and I am excited to see if I can bring that form here. I am feeling good -- not too jet-lagged and not tired."

Widely regarded as Asia's most successful golfer, Choi has won at home, in Japan, on the Asian and European Tours and eight times in the U.S. -- with his most famous victory coming at The Players Championship, when he defeated David Toms on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

He won the SK Telecom in 2003, 2005 and 2008 -- the latter when it was held at Sky72's Ocean Course -- and he finished third here in 2010 when it first joined the OneAsia calendar.

"I have played this course well before so I know what to expect," the relaxed 43-year-old said during a practice round on Wednesday.

"The weather is great at the moment, so if it stays like this, then I know what to do."

"It is my first time home since the ferry accident and the nation is sad," said Choi, referring to the sinking of the M.V. Sewol last month with nearly 500 people aboard. "I hope I can do something by winning."

A generous philanthropist, Choi donated $320,000 of his purse from the 2008 Sony Open to families of victims a deadly Seoul warehouse fire, and $200,000 of his Players Championship winnings to help repair damage caused by tornados that ravaged the southeastern United states the week before.

"I also want to win on OneAsia, and also to win for my main sponsor, SK Telecom, who have looked after me and stage this tournament every year," he said.

Despite the sentiment, Australian Matt Griffin -- who will play alongside Choi in the opening two rounds -- will be looking to shut him out as he defends his title on an unfamiliar course.

Griffin won at Pinx Country Club on Jeju Island last year in a tournament reduced to three rounds because of fog, but he said there were some similarities between the venues.

"They're both quite open and the wind can be a big factor if it picks up," he said.

"The greens here are probably a bit slower, but I like the course and I think I can do well.

Despite missing the cut at last week's GS Caltex Maekyung Open, the winner of last season's Order of Merit title feels his game is not far off.

"I don't think I'm playing badly at all, just a few things here and there not quite going my way. If it comes right, I should be ok," he said.

Park Jun-won was still riding high from last week's maiden victory at Namseoul as he practiced on Wednesday, but the slightly built 27-year-old said he expected it wouldn't be easy around the far longer 6,622-metre (7,241-yard) Ocean Course.

"I'm still smiling," he said. "Still thinking about the weekend."

Several other former SK Telecom Open champions are in the field, not least Park Sang-hyun (2009) who was second last week, Kim Bi-o (2012) and Thai-based Scot Simon Yates (2004).

With the course expected to favour the big hitters, also keep an eye out for Australia's leading ranked player in the field, Scott Hend, along with other Australians Stephen Jones, Rhein Gibson and New Zealander Ryan Fox who finished 10th last week.