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KJ Choi ready for Greensboro defence

South Korea's KJ Choi returns to a happy hunting ground for his title defense of the Greensboro Classic in North Carolina this week.

Choi, who won last year's tournament by two shots after closing with a six-under-par 66, has finished in the top-seven in his last four starts at Forest Oaks Country Club.

The 36-year-old Korean says the par-72 layout reminds him of golf courses in his native country.

"It is similar, and that's why I like it here," Choi told reporters on Tuesday. "I'm very comfortable here.

"It's a very good feeling for me and a good sign to come back here."

Choi, the first Korean to earn a PGA Tour card in 1999, initially struggled to come to terms with playing in the United States.

Not fluent in English, he spent much of his time away from the course in hotels, often spending the evenings reading his Bible.

"It can be lonely away from home and my first year was real difficult, not just playing but getting to the course and getting to the hotel," he said. "You feel like you're the only one out there.

"But coming back through Q (qualifying) school in 2001, I got a boost of confidence.

"I came back to Greensboro and everything started clicking: the fans, the Korean church here, the environment. Ever since then, I've been producing top 10s here at Greensboro."

Choi, who converted to Christianity while dating his wife, has made a habit of going to the local Korean Presbyterian Church the day before the opening round of the Greensboro Classic.

He earned $900,000 by clinching his third PGA Tour title at Forest Oaks last year and donated 10 percent of his winnings to the church, explaining in a note that it was a tithe.

Choi, who has produced just three top-10 finishes in 22 starts on the PGA Tour this season, faces a medium-strength field this week.

With most of the game's leading players absent after competing in last week's WGC-American Express Championship in England, only three members of the world's top 30 are at Forest Oaks.

South African Tim Clark, ranked 20th, heads the field, followed by American Davis Love III (26) and Swede Carl Pettersson (28).

Clark, who lies 29th in the PGA Tour money list, has extra incentive to shine as he bids to retain his place in the top 30 for the elite, season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta next month.

Other big names taking part in the Greensboro Classic, the fifth-last event of the season, include twice major winner John Daly, 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir and 2004 European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer.

October 5, 2006


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