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KJ Choi upbeat about Memorial title defence

South Korean KJ Choi was in optimistic mood for his title defence at this week’s Memorial tournament despite missing the cut in his last two PGA Tour starts.

Nine years ago on his Tour debut Choi tied for 24th at the event hosted by Jack Nicklaus and he has enjoyed Muirfield Village ever since.

Twelve months ago he produced one of the most satisfying victories of his career when he charged from five strokes behind to triumph by a shot from American Ryan Moore.

“I always love coming back to Muirfield,” world number eight Choi told reporters on Tuesday through an interpreter. “There’s a special place in my heart for this tournament.

“I was fortunate enough to get an invitation here nine years ago and to have played with a legend like Jack at his tournament and then to win it last year is just so very special.

“I haven’t been playing well in the past couple of weeks but I feel good this week,” said the 38-year-old who earned the nickname ‘Tank’ as a teenage weightlifter.

Choi made a strong start to the 2008 Tour, winning his seventh title at the Sony Open in January and posting four top-12 finishes in his next five tournaments.

However, he battled to 41st in gusting winds at last month’s U.S. Masters before missing the cut at the Players Championship and last week’s Colonial tournament.

“Having won this tournament before on this course it definitely gives me the confidence and edge I need,” said Choi, who faces a strong lineup.

Phil Mickelson, fresh from his Colonial victory, and 2004 champion Ernie Els head a field that includes six of the world’s top 10.

Top-ranked Tiger Woods, the only triple champion at Muirfield Village, is a notable absentee while he recovers from knee surgery but Mickelson (two), Els (three), Australian Geoff Ogilvy (five), American Jim Furyk (seven), Choi and Spaniard Sergio Garcia (10) are competing.

Among the other big guns missing this week are fourth-ranked Adam Scott of Australia (illness) and Fijian world number nine Vijay Singh (rib injury).

“Obviously we’re disappointed we have lost a couple of guys … but you can’t play if you’re hurt,” said Nicklaus. “I think we have got a great field.”

The event starts on Thursday.


May 28, 2008

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