Choi heading for wire-to-wire win in Sony Open

K.J. Choi
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
K.J. Choi has made only two bogeys this week.

HONOLULU (AP) — K.J. Choi had a special audience Saturday at the Sony Open when 11 friends from his hometown in South Korea flew across the Pacific Ocean overnight to watch him play.

He made it worth the trip with another strong performance to extend his lead.

Choi opened with a pair of birdies and closed with a birdie from the bunker, giving him a 4-under 66 and a four-shot lead over rookie Tim Wilkinson as he tries to become the first outright wire-to-wire winner at Waialae in eight years.

"I felt a lot of support," Choi said.

Two of the friends were financial backers when he started his career — one owns a hospital, the other a restaurant in Wondo, South Korea. They made plans to come to Oahu two months ago, although work kept them from arriving until the weekend.

Choi laughed when asked if there was pressure to make the cut.

Now, the pressure is on everyone chasing him.

Choi was at 15-under 195 and had the largest lead at Waialae since Paul Azinger led by five going into the final round in 2000. That also was the last wire-to-wire winner without ties in the Sony Open.

The only threat on a balmy afternoon came from a rookie who played in the morning.

Wilkinson, a left-hander from New Zealand playing in only his third PGA Tour event, birdied seven of his first 11 holes and finished with an 8-under 62 for the best round of the week.

Kevin Na, who started the third round two shots behind, couldn't keep up with Choi's birdie-birdie start and only a pair of birdies on the final four holes left him in the mix. Na shot 69 and was at 10-under 210 with Stephen Marino (68).

Another shot back was a group that included Chad Campbell, who sized up the situation for everyone chasing Choi.

"He's going to be tough," Campbell said. "He hits a lot of fairways, and that's what you have to do out here."

Choi is 4-0 on the PGA Tour when he has the lead going into the final round, and his average score is 67 in those situations.

Wilkinson at least has experience with a decent crowd at Waialae. He played the first two rounds with 17-year-old island favorite Tadd Fujikawa, who missed the cut. Fujikawa had the largest gallery the first two days, and while the fans ignored the newcomer from New Zealand, Wilkinson said it sure beat his last few years on the Nationwide Tour.

"It's a lot of fun playing in front of people. You hit a good shot, you actually get applause," Wilkinson said. "On the Nationwide Tour, you might hit a good shot and you get nothing."

Even so, the gallery Sunday figures to be one-sided.

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