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Choi sets standard for Asian golfers
THE best finish by an Asian in the US Masters is the third placing, behind Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, registered by South Korean Choi Kyung Ju in 2004.
Choi, also known as KJ, turned professional in 1994 and has won 29 professional tournaments worldwide, including eight on the US PGA Tour, making him Asia's most successful golfer.
His most notable victory came at the 2011 Players Championship, after which he spent 40 weeks in the top 10 of the world rankings.
Nicknamed "Tank" for his muscular frame after his stint as a competitive power lifter in his younger days, Choi was born in Wando in South Korea but resides in Southlake, Texas, in the United States.
The devout Christian, would, however want to remember most his third placing at the 2004 Masters, for more than one reason.
On the final day, challenged by an intimidating 220-yard approach shot on the 11th hole of the treacherous Amen Corner, Choi faced a mammoth task after having dropped shots on the seventh and ninth holes.
He initially decided to go with a four-iron but his caddie Andy Prodger advised him to go with a five-iron as the green was fast and there was water behind the pin.
On the approach, the ball landed inside the front edge of the green, took two hops and rolled straight into the pin for an eagle.
The roar of the crowd was deafening and heard around Augusta and beyond as Choi jumped into the air and high-fived his caddie and playing partner Els.
Three more birdies on holes 13, 14 and 16 propelled Choi to six under, behind "Lefty" Mickelson and "Big Easy" Els.
Choi's eagle was only the third recorded on the 11th hole, previously by Terry Barber in 1962 and Brad Faxon in 2002, in the history of the Masters.
This time, Asia will be represented by a strong field of battle-hardened individuals, namely Li Haotong of China, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, Hideki Matsuyama, Satoshi Kodaira, Shugo Imahira and Takumi Kanaya (amateur) of Japan, and South Korea's Kim Si Woo.
They may not have the wide experience of Choi when he lined up in 2004, but they have youth and high talent needed to pull off surprises.
Of the lot, Matsuyama holds a world ranking of 26, and his eighth- place finish in the Players Championship gives him a boost for the Masters.
Likewise Li (world ranked-38th), who entered the Round of 16 at last month's US$10.25 million World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Matchplay in Austin, Texas, has given himself a decent chance to finish high up in the Masters leaderboard. Kiradech (42), Kodaira (68), Kim (61) and Shugo (74) have PGA Tour experience while Kanaya is the Asia-Pacific amateur champion.