Birdies help Choi take two-shot lead at Sony Open

Updated: January 12, 2008, 12:51 AM ET
Associated Press

HONOLULU -- A different week, a different island and a much different view for K.J. Choi.

Seven days ago, Choi was bringing up the rear in the Mercedes-Benz Championship, last among 31 winners at Kapalua going into the weekend. On Friday, he closed with three straight birdies for a 5-under 65 and a two-shot lead in the Sony Open.

Sony Open Leaderboard

1. Choi (-11)
2. Na (-9)
3. Marino (-8)
T4. Walker (-7)
T4. Funk (-7)

• Complete scores

"I knew that I was going to play better than last week, but I didn't really think about being in the lead or anything," Choi said.

The hottest topic -- and one that left some players hot under the collar -- was far down the leaderboard at the cut line. The PGA Tour has a new policy this year to limit the field size on the weekend, and it knocked out John Daly, Brandt Snedeker and 16 other players.

"I don't understand the rule. I think it's crazy," Daly told Golf Channel. "It's a stupid rule, I'm sorry."

Daly and those who finished at even-par 140 still received official last-place money of $9,699 and 46 points toward the FedEx Cup.

But they won't have a tee time on Saturday.

The policy allows for the top 70 professionals and ties, as always, but if that number exceeds 78 players, then the closest number of players to 70 advance to the final two rounds. Sixty-nine players finished at 1-under 139.

Tadd Fujikawa didn't factor into either of those scenarios. Scrambling to make the cut for the first time in nine professional starts, he took double bogey on his 15th hole, shot a 70 and missed the cut by four shots.

"I gave it a good run," Fujikawa said, who returns to the 11th grade on Monday.

Choi was at 11-under 129 and had a two-shot lead over Kevin Na, who shot 64 and was the only player to make a move in the afternoon.

After seeing Choi's score when he teed off, Na was determined to get in the final group with him. Then he hooked his opening tee shot into the trees, and his next tee shot in the bunker, scrambling for par both times.

"I settled down after that," he said, laughing.

Stephen Marino was atop the leaderboard for most of the morning until his momentum stalled with a bogey on the easiest hole, although he recovered for a 67 and was three shots behind.

Fred Funk, aided by a tip from his wife, finished birdie-eagle for a 64 to give the 51-year-old a decent chance before leaving the kids to play on the Champions Tour in Hawaii the next two weeks. He was at 7-under 133 with Jimmy Walker (68).

Choi is off to his best start ever at Waialae, where the second round has derailed him in the past. He was only 1 under for his round with five holes remaining until making four birdies, the last one a two-putt on the par-5 ninth from some 25 feet.

That made him 25 shots better than his 36-hole start at Kapalua.

"After the third round (last week), I really found my rhythm coming back," Choi said. "My putting was getting better, and I was actually motivated."

Fujikawa, who turned 17 this week, last year became the youngest player in 50 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour when he shot 66 in the second round at the Sony Open and wound up in a tie for 20th. That was the impetus of him turning pro last summer, but it has been a struggle since then. He has played five tours around the world, but still hasn't earned a check.

"I pretty much knew it was gone when I doubled (No.) 6," he said. "The two double bogeys I made this week was because of two mental errors. If I didn't have those two errors, I would have had a good chance to make the cut, and I think my momentum would have been a little better."

Fujikawa knew where he stood on the cut line.

Most players were unaware of the new cut policy, and some didn't find out until they went to sign their cards. Snedeker finished at 140 and was told the playing cut was 1 under. He didn't know what that meant, and didn't like it when he found out.

He immediately called tour officials in Florida to get an answer.

"I don't really agree," he said. "There are definitely other options. Saturday they could cut to 60 and ties."

The concern is a player who could make a move on the weekend and finish in the top 10, or even win, as Brad Faxon, Chris Couch and Jose Maria Olazabal have done before. And money matters this year, especially with Americans trying to make the Ryder Cup team.

Choi, Na and Marino didn't need to worry about that.

Marino is coming off a respectable rookie season in which he was 70th in the final FedEx Cup standings, only lacking a victory. But it taught him he belonged in the big leagues, and he set out to prove it anew at the Sony Open.

He holed a couple of birdie putts from 20 feet, hit a few irons close enough not to worry and was atop the leaderboard coming to the par-5 ninth, the easiest scoring hole on the course. But he found a bunker, with the ball on a slope, and just got it out into tricky rough. His chip ran 8 feet by the hole, and Marino took bogey that felt much worse.

"That kind of halted me a little bit, to make bogey on that hole," he said. "But I made a couple of long birdie putts earlier, and it all evens itself out in the end."

He only made one birdie the rest of the way, on the par-5 18th.

Funk was struggling with his iron play until wife Sharon gave him some advice he could visualize. She told him to keep his back to the target as long as he could, and it made perfect sense to Funk. His irons were clean, crisp and close, even if it took him a while to make a putt. Once he got that going, Funk hated to see the round end. He shot 30 on the back, reaching the green in two at No. 9 and making the eagle.

"Pretty good for an old guy," he said.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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