- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — K.J. Choi got off to the start he wanted. Ernie Els had the finish he needed.

Choi seized control of the Chrysler Championship with a 3-wood into 20 feet for eagle on the opening hole, closing with a 4-under 67 yesterday for a four-shot victory at Innisbrook that got him into the next two tournaments — the Tour Championship next week and the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship that kicks off the 2007 season.

“I’m very impressed today,” said Choi, who won for the fourth time in his career.

No one came within two shots of him on a sunny afternoon on the Copperhead course, which is not to say the final full-field event of the year lacked excitement.

Paul Goydos can cancel his trip to Q-school. He was 160th on the money list until he picked a good time to have his best week, closing with a 70 to tie for second with Brett Wetterich. Goydos earned $466,400, the largest paycheck of his career, and moved up to 97th to secure his card for next year.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to catch K.J.,” Goydos said. “The rest of it is pretty sweet.”

Vaughn Taylor was in danger of losing an automatic spot in the Masters by finishing in the top 40 on the money list when he went out in 39. But he shot 30 on the back nine and easily punched his ticket to Augusta National.

But the real drama belonged to the Big Easy.

A wretched start cost Els any hope of winning for the first time this year, and after more blunders along the back nine, he suddenly was in danger of falling out of the top 30 and missing the Tour Championship. He had to finish with two pars, or he would have wound up at No. 31 on the money list by $852.

He hit into a bunker on the 17th, then saved par by blasting out to two feet. Then came the 18th and a tee shot he hooked so far to the left that it cleared a bunker and the gallery ropes before settling under a cluster of trees. Els hit a terrific punch shot just to find the short grass some 50 yards in front of the green, the pin protected by a steep bunker.

“I knew it was going to be tough,” Els said.

He made it easy with a pitch that checked up behind the hole, inches away for a tap-in par to shoot 72 and send him to East Lake. The loudest cheer might have come from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem in Ponte Vedra Beach, especially because the tour’s All-Star game will be missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

“I bet he was watching,” Els said with a laugh. “The last two up-and-downs were big. I’ll remember those for a long time.”

The biggest winner was Choi.

He started using a new driver last week that not only is square but sounds like someone swatting an empty cola can upon contact. Els played with Choi on Saturday and compared the sound to a tuna can attached to a shaft.

But no one could made fun of his results.

He kept the ball in play when it mattered, and never let anyone get close to his lead. Choi finished at 13-under 271 for his second victory at Innisbrook. He won by seven shots in 2002.

Choi still had to go home to Houston for parent-teacher meetings at school, but he now gets a spot at the Tour Championship and at Kapalua to start next year. Asked which one he was more excited about, Choi mentioned his 11-under 62 on the Plantation Course at Kapalua that is still the course record.

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