|K.J. Choi finished with a 1-over 71, but it was enough to win the Sony Open. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)|
HONOLULU - Every shot brought a tough decision. Every swing brought an unpredictable result.
K.J. Choi never imagined having to work so hard in paradise, even with a four-shot lead in the
Choi survived the blustery conditions at Waialae and a spirited charge by Rory Sabbatini, closing with a 1-over 71 for a three-shot victory yesterday that put him in elite company. It was Choi's fourth straight year with a PGA Tour victory, joining Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Vijay Singh with active streaks that long.
"I can't remember having such a difficult round as today," said Choi, the first Sony Open champion in 41 years with a final round over par. "It was very difficult conditions out there. I told myself, 'Try not to lose focus.' "
Choi wobbled in the wind, and when he three-putted the 13th for bogey - his only three-putt of the week - his lead was down to two shots. But the 37-year-old South Korean made pars the rest of the way, making his only birdie of the final round on the last hole.
"When I made that three-putt, that really woke me up," he said. "It was kind of like medicine. It woke me up and I said, 'I have to hang in there, not fall apart.' It motivated me."
The wind was strong enough to cause palm trees to sway and make birdies scarce. Sabbatini managed six birdies, but a three-putt par on the final hole gave him a 68. He was a runner-up here for the second time.
"There were two things that needed to happen today - K.J. to lose a few shots back to the field, and for someone to go low," Sabbatini said. "He kind of did his part, but the ones of us that were chasing, unfortunately, failed to do our jobs."
Choi, who became the first outright wire-to-wire winner at the Sony Open since Paul Azinger in 2000, finished at 14-under 266 and earned $954,000 for his seventh PGA Tour win. Jerry Kelly closed with a bogey-free 67 to finish alone in third, four shots back.
The last Sony Open champion to close with a round over par was Dudley Wysong, who beat Billy Casper in a playoff in 1967.
Conditions had been mostly calm all week, but wind gusted all day yesterday, and only eight players broke par.
"Being lulled to sleep for three days made it tougher," Kelly said. "If we would have been facing this all week, we might have seen more rounds like that. I'll tell you, I'd hate to be a rookie and just all of a sudden see this place Sunday."
One such rookie was Tim Wilkinson, the New Zealander playing in only his third PGA Tour event, who started off in the final group with Choi after a third-round 62. Wilkinson started with a bogey and it went badly from there. He shot 78 to tie for 25th.
Steve Stricker birdied the last hole for a 70 and finished in a tie for fourth at 272 with Stephen Marino (72), Pat Perez (70), and Kevin Na, who made eagle on the final hole for a 72.