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Reigning champ remains confident

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2008

K.J. Choi arrived at Congressional Country Club this week to prepare for his title defense at the AT&T National.

It didn't take long for him to recall just how he handled the course a year ago.

"Every hole, I remember exactly what I played, what the situation was," said Choi, who played practice rounds Tuesday and Wednesday. "It definitely helps my confidence, and it's going to help me a lot this week."

That confidence certainly will be welcome.

Choi followed up the second multiwin season of his career - he also won the Memorial last year - with a steady start to 2008. He won the Sony Open, the year's first full-field event, and later rattled off four consecutive top-12 finishes.

But the Korean star known as "The Tank" soon found himself in a rut. In his last five events, Choi has missed three cuts, and he has not shot a round under par since early April at Houston.

It's an unusual stretch of shaky play for Choi, who missed only four cuts all of last season. It's his least steady stretch since he missed five of six cuts in the middle of the 2001 season - nearly a year before he collected his first victory in the United States.

Choi, who has not played since the U.S. Open, is optimistic he can recover his form in time for the final two majors of the season.

"I think the past few weeks haven't been so great," Choi said. "I'm not really disappointed by that because I've learned a lot of things from those tournaments I missed the cuts in. The whole year, I've been preparing to play well in the bigger tournaments and condition my body. My body has changed, and my swing is also changing. I think that's why my results haven't been as good as I expected, but it's for the better."

The point, of course, is to play as well as he did during the middle of last year.

Choi mentioned again yesterday how honored he was to win tournaments with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as hosts in a little more than a month. The victory at the Memorial was hardly surprising given Choi's record at the event throughout his career.

He was a steady presence at Congressional, opening with a 66 and loitering at or near the top of the leader board each day. Choi closed with 68, zipping past third-round leader Stuart Appleby to collect a three-shot victory.

It ensured Choi would enjoy arguably the best season of his career and propelled him further in the world rankings. He enters the week ranked 10th, second highest in this week's field behind No. 7 Steve Stricker.

"Winning those two tournaments was a process for me to achieve something bigger," Choi said. "I learned a lot from those two tournaments."

Perhaps enough to help this week. Choi said the course is in good condition, which only makes Congressional more conducive to his style of play.

And if it isn't enough, the surroundings make envisioning success just a little bit easier.

"The course fits my game very well," Choi said. "I hit a lot of high fades and high cut shots, and it suits this course. I really hope to repeat the same achievement that I had last year."