Having led by a stroke overnight, South Korea’s KJ Choi began his final round at the Chrysler Championship in Florida yesterday with an eagle at the par-5 first hole and never looked back on his way to a 67 and a four shot victory, which was his fourth career title on the USPGA Tour. Choi (pictured) finished at -13, four clear of American duo Paul Goydos and Brett Wetterich, who carded an excellent 66 to move through the chasing pack and cap a fine season.
The final event of the 2006 USPGA Tour had many sub-plots in addition to the race for the title. The main issues centred on qualification for this week’s end-of-season bonanza, The Tour Championship, and retaining playing priveleges for next season by finishing in the top 125 on the US Tour Money List.
Choi’s victory meant that he finished in 26th place in the standings, sealing his place in this week’s field at the East Lake Golf Club in Georgia. He will be joined there by South Africa’s Ernie Els, who suffered an extremely tense finish to his final round as he battled to make the field for The Tour Championship.
Els began the day one stroke behind Choi and was hoping to secure his first title of the season at the final time of asking but struggled to a final round of 72 and finished six shots behind Choi. However, once he realised the tournament was out of reach Els still needed to secure a top six finish to rubber-stamp his presence at East Lake and made crucial pars from unlikely positions on the 17th and 18th to achieve his goal. Had he made bogey on either of those holes Els would have finished the season in 31st position on the Money List by less than £500 – only the top 30 qualify for the Tour Championship.
“The last two up-and-downs were big and I’ll remember them for a long time,” a relieved Els said.
“If you go through a process like this you appreciate going to the Tour Championship. Normally you just walk in there but this time it was hard work. After the front nine I knew the tournament was over for me but I still needed to finish in the top six.”
The runner-up spot earned by Goydos moved him up to 97th in the Money List and prevented him from having to attend qualifying school, while there was also joy for England’s Justin Rose. Rose finished on -2 in Florida and 47th on the Money List, his best season by far in the US.
European golf was boosted further after Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke finished the season in 125th place, thus retaining his priveleges for next season despite a season heavily disrupted by the tragic death of his wife. Duffy Waldorf, the only man in a position to overtake Clarke on the final day, finished well down the field.