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Choi continues strong play in big events

Photo: Ed Betz/AP

K.J. Choi is fifth on the FedEx Cup points list.

HARRISON, N.Y. (AP) — Tiger Woods looks like he might lose his No. 1 seed by skipping The Barclays, thanks to some stellar golf at Westchester from one of the top players chasing him in the PGA Tour Playoffs.

The surprise is that it's K.J. Choi, not Vijay Singh.

On a course that has given him fits, Choi holed out from 94 yards for eagle on the seventh hole and marched along to a 5-under 66, giving him a two-shot lead over Rich Beem going into the weekend at the first of four playoff events for the FedEx Cup.

And on a course where Singh has won three times, the defending champion cleaned out his locker Friday after missing the cut for the first time at Westchester in five years. He wasted a brilliant start to shoot 71 and miss by four shots.

"In one way, I'm disappointed," said Singh, who has missed consecutive cuts for the first time since 2005. "But in another, I'd rather be out there working on my game than just trying to play here and playing poorly."

Geoff Ogilvy, who won the U.S. Open down the road at Winged Foot last summer, had a 66 in the swirling breezes of late afternoon and joined Steve Stricker (68) and Rory Sabbatini (71) at 8-under 134.

No one else was within six shots of Choi at 12-under 130.

"It's going to get firmer, and as it gets firmer, it will get tougher," Ogilvy said.

But while The Barclays still has 36 holes remaining, the FedEx Cup season ended Friday for 13 players who were below No. 120 and either missed the cut or withdrew. That makes it impossible for them to be among the 120-man field in round two at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Among them was Billy Andrade, who grew up near the TPC at Boston.

For Choi, it was another reminder that this has been his best year in golf.

He already has two PGA Tour victories against strong fields this year. He is No. 5 in the FedEx Cup standings. He is on the verge of cracking the top 10 in the world ranking. And his confidence is growing with a controlled fade off the tee that has spurred his success.

His name atop the leaderboard at The Barclays was more evidence.

In 10 previous rounds at this tournament, Choi had never shot better than 67 and had broken par only three times.

"My scores are better than what I expected," Choi said. "I've always played not so well here in the past years, and this course ... it's very hard to score under par."

Beem celebrated his 37th birthday with a 68, then sang "Happy Birthday" to himself. The best gift for Beem would be his first victory since the 2002 PGA Championship, but even a top-10 finish would at least qualify him for the second playoff event next week outside Boston. Beem is No. 134 in the standings.

"Playing good any time of the year is always fun," he said. "But obviously now, where I kind of have to get into the next event up the road, I know that unless I play well, I'm going home. And I don't want to go home. No offense to my wife or kids or anything, but when you're playing well, you want to stay on the road."

Another player giving himself new life was Bill Haas, who had a 68 and was in the group at 6-under 136 that included Sergio Garcia (67), Ernie Els (71), Retief Goosen (68) and Adam Scott (69).

Phil Mickelson had a 70 and was at 137.

"I would have liked to have been more under par because when K.J. gets it going, he's got the ability to keep going, so he's going to be tough to catch," Mickelson said. "But a good round tomorrow, maybe I'll have a chance on Sunday."

Woods, who chose to sit out this event, could wind up 6,500 points behind if Choi were to win.

Even now, Choi finds it hard to believe what he has done this year, especially his victories against strong fields on strong courses, such as the Memorial in early June and a month later at Congressional in the new AT&T National.

He attributes his turnaround to his driving. Instead of trying to shape a tee shot depending on the hole, Choi worked with coach Steve Bann on a consistent fade that he seems to have perfected. He has missed only two fairways in each of the first two rounds at The Barclays, allowing him to take advantage of mild conditions.

"I found myself constantly changing my shots, and there was no consistency," Choi said. "But this year, I just learned to play one shot, a fade shot. Just hit it in one direction, whether it's a dogleg left or whether it's a dogleg right. It's made a lot of difference."

Choi and Sabbatini were tied after playing the back nine, but the South Korean quickly pulled away.

He chipped it from about 15 yards short of the par-3 first hole, hit a 7-iron to about 4 feet on the third hole for birdie, then seized command of the tournament with his sand wedge that hopped into the hole.

"I hit a high ball and couldn't see," Choi said. "Everybody started jumping up and down."

Beem has struggled to put good rounds together, and it appeared this might be another slide when he chopped up the second hole, first going into the bunker and then three-putting from 8 feet for double bogey. But he birdied three of the next four holes and managed a 68 despite failing to birdie two of the par 5s.

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