K.J. Choi has found his game after dealing with a back injury last season.
Al Tielemans/SI
Thursday, January 05, 2012

Shortly after K.J. Choi was told that he had drawn Tiger Woods as a playing partner for the first two rounds of the Masters last week, Choi's caddie, Andy Prodger, set the record straight.

"He's drawn us, we haven't drawn him," Prodger said. "When K.J. is on, absolutely nothing bothers him."

As it turns out, you could have phrased it either way because Choi and Woods played together all four rounds at Augusta, matching scores each day. But while Woods was by turns stellar and struggling, Choi, whose nickname is "Tank," was steadfast.

He enters this week's Verizon Heritage Classic at Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, S.C., knowing he had a far better chance to win the Masters than Woods. Choi briefly tied eventual winner Phil Mickelson for the lead when he birdied the 10th hole Sunday. Bogeys on 13 — a two-stroke giveaway to the field — and 14 sunk his chances.

This week he wipes the slate clean. He looks entirely recovered after a lower-back injury that plagued him in 2009.

"First of all my body, physically, feels much better than last year; and secondly I'm thinking very positive," Choi said at Augusta.

A seven-time Tour winner, Choi, 38, has made eight of eight cuts on Tour in 2010. He was second at Tampa, T4 at Augusta.

Granted, he's played Hilton Head only once, in 2001, and missed the cut with scores of 71-72, but that was a long time ago. He'd never won on Tour, and in the midst of his second full year on the big-boy circuit was still missing as many cuts as he made.

Now he's a fixture out there.

Jerry Kelly, who tied for 12th at Augusta, will be among the others expected to excel at Harbour Town. He has two top-10 finishes there in the last four years. Stewart Cink, who missed the cut at Augusta but stuck around to work on his game at the club's pristine new practice area, has twice won the Verizon.

Others to keep an eye on include fifth-ranked Ian Poulter; Davis Love III, a five-time winner at Harbour Town; Bryce Molder, who was in the hunt for his first Tour victory until the final day in Houston two weeks ago; resurgent Trevor Immelman (T14 at Augusta); and rookies Graham DeLaet (T3 in Houston) and Rickie Fowler.

Last but not least, don't overlook defending champion Brian Gay. He won the 2009 Verizon by a tournament-record 10 strokes.

Senior Fred to headline Outback
If you like Choi to make some serious noise at the Verizon, then by the same logic you have to like Fred Couples (sixth at the Masters) to sizzle at the Champions Tour's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz, Fla.

Tom Watson, who's twice won the Outback, finished T18 at Augusta and just got a special exemption into this June's U.S. Open, is also in the field. So are Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle, each of whom broke 70 in round one at Augusta before missing the cut.

Nick Price defends.

Rice hosts, plays on Nationwide
Former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice hosts the inaugural Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae in Hayward, Calif. Not only that, he'll play in the tournament. Others in the field include 2008 U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee and former USC standout Jamie Lovemark.

Rice, 47, denied that his inclusion in the field was a "publicity stunt," saying, "I have the opportunity to go out and prove to everybody I can play golf."

A scratch golfer, his most recent crossover appearance was as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars in 2006. (He finished second.) The Jerry Rice 127 Foundation will receive tournament proceeds.

"I want to perform well and would love to make the cut," Rice says, but history is emphatically not on his side.

Former professional athletes Al Del Greco (two Nationwide starts), Brett Hull (three), Ivan Lendl (three), Dan Quinn (four), Mark Rypien (one) and Ralph Terry (one) have taken their game to the PGA Tour's development circuit. None of them has made a single cut.

Ryder Cup captains meet in China
Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin are among those entered in the European Tour's Volvo China Open at Suzhou Jinji Lake Golf Club, approximately 90 minutes outside Shanghai.

The field will also include Henrik Stenson and Y.E. Yang, but the star of the show will be 14-year-old amateur sensation Zhang Jin, who will not be the youngest-ever starter in a Euro Tour event, but would be the youngest ever to make the cut if he makes it to the weekend.

LPGA tries something new
The Mojo 6 Jamaica LPGA Invitational, which will feature 16 players in a series of six-hole matches, will be played Thursday and Friday but will not air until May 1 and 2 on CBS.

Paula Creamer, Christina Kim, Brittany Lincicome and Yani Tseng are among the headliners at Cinnamon Hill Golf Course at Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica, as the LPGA tires a new format: Raceway Golf.

Players select their own opponents-the highest ranked player gets first pick, and so on-and play three separate six-hole matches to establish "day one ranking" from one to 16.

The top eight then move on to the "championship day" and are set against each other in a single-elimination bracket format.

 

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