Choi enjoys a strong start at the British Open (Lead)

July 18th, 2008 - 1:02 am ICT by IANS  

Southport (Britain), July 17 (IANS) Asia’s top star K.J. Choi of Korea hung in grimly in tough conditions at the British Open with a gutsy opening round of two-over-par 72 Thursday. The Asian Tour graduate battled cold winds and rain in his morning start at Royal Birkdale to lie one shot behind early leaders Retief Goosen of South Africa and Canadian Mike Weir.

Choi, ranked 11th in the world, was delighted with his effort as he chased his dream of becoming the first Asian to lift a major at the year’s third major.

“When we started in the morning, conditions were very tough. It was very windy and rainy but I tried to keep my focus and I think it helped me. I just told myself to stay focused and be comfortable out there,” said Choi. “I didn’t look too far ahead and I prayed to the Lord to keep me going.”

The 37-year-old, who grew up on Wando island which did not have a golf course, was thrilled to return to Royal Birkdale some 10 years after making his major debut. Since then, Choi has become Asia’s most successful player with seven victories on the US PGA Tour, including once this season.

Choi’s growing fondness for links golf, which saw him post a tied eighth finish at Carnoustie last year, has convinced him that he is getting closer to his goal of lifting the Claret Jug.

“The biggest development since 1998 is my score recovery. I can recover better these days and I certainly feel more comfortable on links courses now. I’m very used to it,” said Choi.

The Korean kept his patience under torrid conditions on a day when the likes of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh shot big numbers.

Choi started his campaign nicely with a 12-foot birdie conversion at the fourth hole but gave a shot straight back at the fifth to turn in even par 34. Choi dropped three more bogeys on his inward nine against a second birdie of the day on the 13th.

The Korean described the day as the second toughest ever in his Open experience.

“This is certainly my toughest round since the third round at Carnoustie in 1999 (when he shot an 81).

“On the back nine, I wasn’t patient as it was swirling a lot. On the 10th hole, I missed a shot on the right and I had 165 yards into the green and I hit a perfect three iron and it ended 30 yards short. It was very strong winds,” said Choi.

His strong start was a welcome return to form for Choi whose game went off the boil after winning the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier in the year. Since the US Masters in April, Choi has missed three cuts in six starts and failed to post a top-10.

“There was something wrong with my back swing a couple of months ago. This week, my coach (Steven Bann) and I have been working hard at the driving range and I was happy with my swing again. I’m more confident and we’ll see what happens over the next three days.”

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