Alive and kicking! KJ Choi posts 2nd top-5 finish on PGA Tour in Feb.

February 23, 2016
K.J. Choi, of South Korea, gestures as he misses a putt on the 18th green during the final round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

K.J. Choi, of South Korea, gestures as he misses a putt on the 18th green during the final round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016, in the Pacific Palisades section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — South Korean veteran Choi Kyoung-ju tied for fifth at the Northern Trust Open on the PGA Tour in California on Sunday, the second time he’s ranked in the top five on the tour this month.

Choi, better known as K.J. Choi in the United States, started out hot before fading away to a two-under 69 in the final round at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California, and ended at 12-under 272 for the tournament, tied with Marc Leishman in fifth.

Choi, an eight-time PGA Tour winner, is still looking for his first victory since The Players Championship in May 2011. Bubba Watson, the overnight leader, birdied two of the final three holes to win his second Northern Trust Open at 15-under 269.

Choi started the round in a tie for fifth place, two strokes behind Watson at 10-under. The South Korean opened with a birdie at the par-5 first, and went on to pick up three more birdies on the front nine to take the lead.

Choi was one of four players tied for the lead at 14-under at one point on the back nine, but Choi had his first hiccup at the par-4 12th. He found the right rough off the tee and sent his second shot past the green. A mediocre chip left Choi with a 13-foot par attempt, and he missed it for his first bogey of the day.

He had a string of five consecutive pars before committing another bogey on the 18th.

Another South Korean, Kang Sung-hoon, tied for eighth at Riviera at 10-under 274.

Reached on his phone by Yonhap News Agency, Choi said he was far from disappointed with the result because he’s only getting started.

“I think I will have many more opportunities like this in the future,” said Choi, who has already made more than US$1 million to rank 21st on the money list. “I got off to a quick start and expected some good things, but I am still satisfied with the result.”

Choi finished alone in second place at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on Feb. 1, his first top-10 showing on the tour since June 2014. The 45-year-old was recently named coach of the South Korean men’s team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where golf will be contested for the first time in 112 years.

After a strong showing at Riviera, Choi has an outside chance at qualifying for the Olympics as a player. He soared 31 spots on the latest world rankings to No. 102. He ended the 2015 season in 302nd place.

For the Olympics, the top 15 players in the world rankings are eligible, with a limit of four players per nation. Beyond the top 15, countries can have up to two other players.

Choi has leapfrogged past Song Young-han to become the third-highest South Korean on the rankings, behind An Byeong-hun (28th) and Kim Kyung-tae (72nd). Song, who defeated world No. 1 Jordan Spieth earlier this month to win an Asian Tour event, has slipped from 113th to 119th.

Choi said he’s happy with his overall game so far this season.

“My short game has been great this year, and I have no issues with my shots,” he said. “In particular, my putting has become steady.”

Choi said he will rest for two weeks, having played in four consecutive tournaments, and will next compete at the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, starting on March 10.

Two of his eight PGA Tour wins have come on the same course, first in 2002 when the tournament was called the Tampa Bay Classic, and again in 2006 when it became the Chrysler Championship.

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