Choi just keeps plugging along at the Masters

K.J. Choi is paired with Tiger Woods for the fourth straight day.
Al Tielemans/SI

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Amid all the prominent names on the Masters leaderboard, there's one player who just doesn't seem to fit.

Then again, K.J. Choi has been there all three rounds.

No reason for him to go away now.

Still right in the mix after his third straight sub-par round - even if no one seemed to notice - the South Korean heads into Sunday's finale at Augusta National just four strokes off the lead. He's right in the middle of a star-studded board that includes three of the top four in the world golf rankings, No. 1 Tiger Woods, No. 3 Phil Mickelson and No. 4 Lee Westwood, plus sentimental favorite Fred Couples.

"I'm really having a good time this week," said Choi, who shot a 2-under 70 that left him four strokes off Westwood's pace, three behind Mickelson and tied for third with Woods. "I feel good right now, and I'm just going to keep to my routine and just keep on praying. You never know how this tournament is going to finish."

Choi has been paired all three rounds with Woods, and they've matched each other virtually stroke for stroke. They're both at 8-under 208, so they'll get to play together one more time - in the most important round of all.

"Unbelievable, absolutely fantastic," said Choi, ranked 43rd in the world. "I'm used to him after three rounds, so having the same pairing is fantastic."

The South Korean has been steady as can be, making only five bogeys over the first three rounds. He's not doing anything all that spectacular, but he's not made any major mistakes, either.

That's sort of how he had hoped it would go, especially when he learned he'd play with Woods the first two rounds. The world's best player was coming off a five-month layoff and a humiliating sex scandal, so it figured that no one would be paying much attention to Choi.

That was again the case Saturday, when Augusta National was in an uproar as spectacular shots kept falling all over the back nine. Mickelson made back-to-back eagles. Woods ripped off three straight birdies to get back in contention. The 50-year-old Couples and Ricky Barnes both holed out chips.

Choi was doing some good work, too - not that anyone seemed to notice.

"He's great," Woods said. "I've played with him a lot over the years. K.J. is just a great guy, and on top of that he's learned a lot of English. Our conversations are getting a little bit longer now."

Choi rolled in a birdie at the signature 12th hole, took advantage of both par-5s on the back side and finished with a string of pars. Over the first three rounds Choi is even on the front side, but has played the back at a combined 8 under.

Does he need to be more aggressive on the opening holes Sunday?

"I don't know," Choi replied. "Hopefully I can hit the tee shots and get going a couple of holes and made birdies early, get off to a good start."

When Augusta National announced the pairings for Thursday and Friday, Choi welcomed the idea of playing with Woods, saying he enjoyed big crowds that were sure to follow their every step and didn't mind if the patrons were mostly focused on his playing partner.

But Choi has won over the crowds with his relaxed demeanor, and he keeps himself calm by praying and singing religious hymns.

"I think the fans are really showing their love equally to everybody, especially to me," he said. "Every hole, I feel like the crowds, they are supporting me as well. It's just been a very comfortable week."

If he can put together a dazzling round Sunday, maybe something along the lines of his opening 67, he might just steal away that green jacket from all this big-name rivals.

Choi isn't sure what it will take to win his first major title.

"No idea," he said. "Everybody is playing so well right now. It's really hard to determine at this stage what the winning score is going to be and who's going to come out on top.

"I'm just going to get some good rest and get prepared."

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