K.J. Choi K.J. Choi goes wire-to-wire in winning Sony Open at Waialae Country Club in Hawaii

After cruising into the final round of the Sony Open with a four-shot lead, K.J. Choi had to grind it out Sunday to complete his victory.

Choi finished with a 1-over-par 71 in windy playing conditions to hold off Rory Sabbatini by three strokes at Honolulu's Waialae Country Club. The 37-year-old South Korean finished at 14-under 266 to record his seventh PGA Tour victory.

"I can't remember having such a difficult round as far as I can remember as today," Choi said in his post-round press conference. "It was very difficult conditions out there. I told myself, try not to lose focus. I really think the Lord helped me, making me feel comfortable."

Choi became the first wire-to-wire winner on tour since Steve Flesch in last year's Reno-Tahoe Open. He also became the third player in Sony Open history to lead every round, joining Howard Twitty (1993) and Paul Azinger (2000).

With strong winds allowing just eight players in the field to post rounds below par, Choi said club selection was difficult. However, he said what really got his attention was a three-putt bogey on No. 13 - his only three-putt of the tournament.

"It was kind of like a medicine," Choi said. "It woke me up and said, ‘You know what, I have to hang in there, not fall apart.' It motivated me."

After the bogey at No. 13, Choi was solid the rest of the way in. He closed with four consecutive pars and then birdied the par-4 18th hole.

Choi, whose victory was worth $954,000 and 4,500 FedEx Cup points, was the first player in the event since 1967 to win with a final round above par. Even with the wind, Choi said he didn't figure an above-par round would be good enough for a victory.

"Honestly, I would have thought I would have probably had to shoot 2 under to win, but with the conditions being so difficult out there, I just tried to stay focused with every shot and just keep it close until the end," Choi said. "I think even on the last hole, just keeping my concentration, getting that birdie secured everything."

Sabbatini closed with a 2-under 68 to finish second, but was hampered by a double bogey at No. 8 and a bogey at No. 15 as he tried to mount a charge. Jerry Kelly carded a bogey-free round of 67 — one shot off the low round of the day — to place third.

Steve Stricker, the runner-up at the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship, led a group of four players tied for fourth at 8-under 272. He was joined by Pat Perez, Steve Marino and Kevin Na.

Sabbatini said he knew he needed to take an aggressive approach to have any hope of catching Choi.

"I knew I needed to go out there and play well and make as many birdies as I could because on this golf course, in these conditions, it's inevitable you're going to make a bogey or two out there," Sabbatini told reporters. "I just knew I needed to put the ball in the fairways, put it on the greens and give myself some birdie opportunities.

"I got off to a good start but obviously had a few little mishaps on the way. Unfortunately, it just left me a little too shy."

No one found the conditions more difficult than Tim Wilkinson, who shot himself into the final group with Choi following his 8-under 62 on Saturday. The rookie bogeyed the first hole and went on to shoot 78 and finish tied for 25th.

For Choi, it seems winning ugly was a good learning experience.

"I think the biggest thing I learned this week is no matter what the conditions are out there, you have to stay patient with yourself, and I think this experience here in Hawaii is going to help me prepare for the major tournaments that are coming up because in those tournaments you have to be patient," Choi said. "You can't just get too greedy. You have to accept the conditions as they are."

January 14, 2008

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