K.J. Choi K.J. Choi takes British Open lead as underdogs Greg Norman, David Duval surprise

The best round of K.J. Choi's British Open career has him poised to make a serious run at his first major championship this weekend at Royal Birkdale.

Going out late in the day, Choi fired a 3-under-par 67 Friday to stand at 1-under 139 heading into today's third round. The only golfer in the field to get through two rounds with a score below par, Choi leads Greg Norman by one shot and Camilo Villegas by two.

"I think today was probably my best round I've ever played at the British Open," Choi told reporters. "Today, all my shots, the swing, putting, everything worked the way I wanted it to.

"The fan support today was wonderful. I got a lot of motivation out of that."

Choi, who opened with a 2-over 72 on Thursday, made his only miscue of the day with a bogey on No. 1, while playing in a steady 20 mph and otherwise dreary conditions. After that, he responded with birdies at Nos. 3, 13, 17 and 18 where he holed a 25-foot birdie putt to sit alone atop the leaderboard.

Although this is the first time Choi has owned the lead in a major, he's not a complete stranger to success in the British Open. Last year at Carnoustie Golf Club, the 37-year-old South Korean played in the final group on Saturday and wound up finishing tied for eighth.

Choi said he'll continue to stick with the game plan he's been trying to execute in recent majors.

"With the experiences of playing in numerous other majors before, I think the key thing that I've learned is to stay patient," Choi said. "And the other thing is try to get as much rest as you can and not be too aggressive out there. I'm just going to take the approach of being a learner and not get too confident, but just take every day as a learning experience."

While Choi is a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, he said just the thought of winning a major is a major thrill.

"If I were to win this, the reaction back in Korea would be tremendous," Choi said. "I know just because it's a major tournament. I know there are a lot of people that are praying for me back home."

For the second consecutive day, several interesting underdog stories were in the works. None are more compelling than Norman, who carded a second consecutive even-par 70 to stand alone in second place.

Once the No. 1 player in the world, the 53-year-old Norman said his British Open experience has felt a little bit like he's stepped back in time. Married to former tennis star Chris Evert less than a month ago, Norman admits his expectations for the tournament were low.

"My expectations were almost nil coming in, to tell you the truth," Norman told reporters. "I hadn't played a lot of golf. I was trying to work on my game as much as I could. Obviously, we had a lot of preparation getting ready for the wedding."

Because of his lack of practice, Norman still doesn't seem to consider himself a serious contender. The last time he was in serious contention at a major was the 1996 Masters when he was atop the leaderboard after 36 holes.

"Like I said yesterday in this press room ... my expectations are still realistically low, and I have to be that way," Norman said. "Well, I am playing well, I am doing it, but I still haven't been there for a long time."

Former British Open champion David Duval is yet another intriguing story. With a second-round 69, Duval is in a seven-way tie for fourth place at 2-over 142.

Although Duval hasn't won a tournament since 2001, and his best finish this year was a tie for 60th in the Stanford St. Jude Championship in early June, he said his play at the Open comes as no surprise to him.

"There's nothing that's made it click this week. What's made it click is what's been going on for the last year and a half and the work I've been putting in and the time I've been using to practice," Duval told reporters. "Frankly, I put it back together - my golf swing and my head and everything else that I've wanted to do - and I'm getting very comfortable with what I'm trying to do now."

The round of the day belonged to Villegas, who blazed his way to a 5-under 65 to climb to third place. The player known as "Spider Man" because of his appearance while dropping to the ground to read putts, finished with five consecutive birdies put himself in the hunt on a day that started with bogeys on his first two holes.

After taking 34 putts to shoot a first-round 76, Villegas needed just 23 putts Friday.

"Very interesting ... I obviously played unbelievable," Villegas said. "(I) got off to a bad start, bogeyed the first two holes, and I kept my composure after that.

"My caddie just told me to keep battling, keep grinding and (I) came back with two birdies on No. 4 and 5. The back nine was obviously very special finishing with five birdies in a row."

First-round leaders Rocco Mediate, Graeme McDowell and Robert Allenby all shot 73 to drop into a fourth-place tie with Duval, defending Open champion Padraig Harrington, Jim Furyk and Alexander Noren. Harrington, who was questionable for the championship with a wrist injury, bettered his first-round 74 with a 68 in round two.

Pre-tournament favorite Sergio Garcia shot a second-round 73 and is tied for 22nd at 5-over 145. Phil Mickelson, the highest-ranked player in the field due to the knee injury that has sidelined world No. 1 Tiger Woods, bounced back from a first-round 79 to shoot 68 and is tied for 38th at 7-over 147.

Ernie Els, who endured his career-worst British Open round Thursday with an 80, responded with a 69 and barely qualified to play the weekend. Els finished Friday on the cut line at 9-over 149.

U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee

Nick Flanagan caught fire for a 7-under-par 63 Friday in the second round of the U.S. Bank Championship and sits atop the leaderboard with first-round leader Richard S. Johnson at 10-under 130 at Brown Deer Golf Club.

Kent Jones (65) and Gavin Coles (62) are tied for third at 9-under 131. Troy Matteson and Ken Duke both shot second-round 65s and are tied for fifth at 8-under 132.

Kenny Perry, who has been one of the hottest players in the world in recent weeks, shot a 2-under 68 and dropped into a tie for 27th place at 5-under 135.

July 19, 2008

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