Did Tiger's presence make Choi go unnoticed?
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you were watching televised coverage of the Masters, you likely were more focused on Tiger Woods than his playing partner.
In fact, a couple of patrons walking in Woods' gallery on Saturday weren’t too sure which Korean superstar was playing alongside him. After watching Woods hit the Eisenhower Tree on No. 17, one could be heard saying, “Hey, that’s Y.E. Yang teeing off now.”
No, that’d be K.J. Choi.
After a 1-under 71 and a tie for second place at 8 under (three shots better than Woods), Choi didn’t care much about that lack of attention. And his caddie of eight years, Andy Prodger, likes it that way.
“He likes playing with Tiger; it makes him focus,” Prodger said after Choi completed his fifth round with Tiger at the Masters in the past two years. “There is a lot of attention on Tiger, so K.J. can just concentrate on himself.”
And Choi didn’t really have to worry about anyone distracting him, with every yell and scream directed at Tiger.
“This is a zoo!”
That was a fan walking down the first hole, trying to fight his way to watch Woods chip from the right side of the green.
It might have been easier for him to find a spot to watch Choi, who was safely on the green and two-putted for a par. Not many fans noticed, as they were fighting to get to the second tee after Woods bogeyed.
“Have a great day, sir.”
That was a security guard to a patron, as he ushered the fan to the ropes at No. 7 – after Woods lipped out another birdie putt on the previous hole.
Meanwhile, Choi was impressively saving par on a good, uphill two-putt that was a signal of things to come with his aggressive putting stroke at Augusta National.
“He’s really going after the holes with his putter,” Prodger said. “We made a couple of silly mistakes with the putter today, but he is being aggressive. We just have to stay patient.”
“That’s what I call earning a par! Hey, Tiger, beat him with a birdie!”
Choi couldn’t even buy this spectacular moment.
After sending his drive into the rough under a tree on the right side of No. 7, Choi punched a shot into the back right bunker, leaving him a slick shot out of the bunker to reach the hole.
His bunker shot slid all the way across and off the green, leaving Choi “hoping for bogey.”
He didn’t have to do much wishing, as he pushed a putt firmly against the pin and watched the ball drop right in. The dramatic par save sent Choi into a fist-pumping sequence.
“That turned around my day,” said Choi, who will tee off in the second-to-last group with Charl Schwartzel at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
“I couldn’t find Tiger earlier. Now I can’t get away from him.”
The eighth hole was a sign of things to come for both players. The “oohs” and “aahs” started in earnest when Woods flew the par 5 in two shots, while Choi put his second shot right on the front of the long green.
Woods chipped to about 8 feet, but two putts later, he left with a par.
Choi put his eagle putt within a foot and tapped in for this birdie. He’d follow that with an impressive birdie at No. 9, while Woods missed an easy 8-footer to give Choi a three-shot lead over Woods heading into the back nine.
And that fan continued to believe.
“Tiger will turn it around on the back nine, just like (Friday).”
“I want my money back!”
Finally, a moment when he Woods watch party realized what was going on.
After a three-putt par at the par-5 15th, Tiger fans started to become unsettled. One fan shouted, fairly loudly, “Tiger, you got to be better than that.”
That same fan turned to his buddy and said, “How can K.J. Choi be playing better than Tiger?”
Well, at least this fan knew his name.