DUBLIN — K.J. Choi doesn’t feel entirely comfortable speaking English, so he relies on a translator for some of the more difficult questions and answers in his news conferences.
But Choi had no trouble turning a phrase Sunday as he described the birdie on No. 9 that closed his front-nine 30 and gave him the lead for good at the Memorial Tournament.
“Seven-iron, cut shot, Jack style,” said Choi, a native of South Korea, breaking into a wide grin.
Jack style is right. Not only did Choi borrow the high fade from tournament founder Jack Nicklaus, he staged a Nicklaus-like rally that paralyzed the leaders.
Choi shot 7-under 65 to tie the low final-round score by a Memorial winner. He began the day five shots behind leader Rod Pampling for the largest comeback on the PGA Tour this year.
Choi finished at 17-under 271, one shot better than Ryan Moore, who birdied 13-17. Kenny Perry (63) and Pampling (72) tied for third.
Choi laid the groundwork for his fifth PGA Tour victory — the most by an Asian — with six birdies on the front nine and a par save from the water on the par-5 fifth. He preserved the win with six one-putts on the back nine, including par saves on Nos. 16-18.
When asked to describe his birdies, Choi didn’t need any help from the translator.
“Hold on one sec,” he said, digging his scores out of his pocket. “Too many today.”
Choi is a fitting winner at Nicklaus’ tournament. Not only did Nicklaus first invite Choi to Muirfield Village in 1999, Choi learned the game from a Nicklaus instruction book.
“My physical education teacher gave me a pictorial book in high school,” Choi said through the translator. “That’s how I learned to play.
“Thank you, Jack.”
“My pleasure,” Nicklaus said.
Choi, 37, has taken a book translated into Korean and built a thriving career in America. He’s won for the third straight season — only six players have longer streaks — has four top-10 finishes this year and surpassed the $13 million career earnings mark with the $1.08 million top prize.
“It’s hard to describe in words how meaningful this is,” Choi said of winning Nicklaus’ tournament. “I only think this was meant to be.”
That’s not how it looked when the day began. The tee times, moved up more than three hours Saturday night because of a dicey forecast, were pushed back an hour Sunday morning because of a thunderstorm. But despite lingering gray skies and the occasional raindrop, play wasn’t halted after it began.
The final group probably wishes it had been. Pampling, Adam Scott (70) and Sean O’Hair (70) were the only players on the final leaderboard who didn’t shoot in the 60s.
Pampling shot even-par 36 on the front but eagled No. 15 to get to 16 under and a stroke back of Choi. But Pampling misjudged the wind on No. 17, his approach sailed long and the bogey killed his chances.
“I was staring it down,” he said of his iron. “I thought I was all over it.”
A 69 would’ve been enough for Pampling to secure the win.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I basically gave everyone hope.”
Scott, a fellow Australian, shot 33 on the front but bogeyed the par-5 11th to drop to 14 under. Birdies on 15 and 16 gave him a chance, but he didn’t hit the hole on a 7-foot par putt on 17.
“I misread it a little and pushed it a little,” he said. “It looked awful.”
Scott also bogeyed 18 to finish in a tie for fifth at 14 under with Fredrik Jacobson (68), Stewart Cink (69) and O’Hair.
“K.J. certainly played a round worthy of winning,” said Scott, who held the lead Friday night after a 62. “But I felt I could’ve done it and didn’t. You’ve got to make putts inside 10 feet coming down the stretch.
“I’m a bit miffed.”
An absence of wind and soft conditions left the course vulnerable. The scoring average of 70.930 was the lowest at the Memorial since 1998, and Perry shot the best final round in tournament history.
“We had four days of no wind, we had four days of really easy conditions,” Nicklaus explained. “I always felt a good golf course can be shot. I always look at Pebble Beach. If the conditions are windless at Pebble Beach, you can shoot very low.
“But when the wind comes up here and dries this course out, it’s tough.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or email@example.com.
K.J. Choi -17
R. Moore -16
K. Perry -15
R. Pampling -15
F. Jacobson -14
S. Cink -14
S. O’Hair -14
A. Scott -14
G. Ogilvy -12
A. Baddeley -12
E. Els -9
V. Singh -9
T. Woods -9