Masters no longer strikes fear into Asians, says Choi

AUGUSTA, Georgia Sun Apr 11, 2010 11:20pm EDT

K.J. Choi of South Korea holds up his ball after sinking a putt on the 10th green during final round play in the 2010 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 11, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best

K.J. Choi of South Korea holds up his ball after sinking a putt on the 10th green during final round play in the 2010 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, April 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Shaun Best

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - The Masters has brought some of golf's greats to their knees and crushed the dreams of others but struck no fear into South Korea's KJ Choi, who came close to claiming the year's first major on Sunday.

Starting the day four strokes behind overnight leader Lee Westwood, Choi briefly joined Phil Mickelson in a share of the lead with eight holes to play before slipping back with bogeys on 13 and 14.

He hit back with a birdie at the 15th but could not mount a late charge, returning a three-under 69 to finish in a tie for fourth with Tiger Woods, five shots behind Mickelson, who claimed his third Green Jacket.

"In the past ... the mindset of the Asian players was that when it comes to the Masters, there was a fear factor there, that we can't do it," Choi told reporters.

"Now I hope that this gives motivation for the younger players, other players, that they can do it at big tournaments like the Masters."

If anything, it is the Korean contingent that is starting to send a shiver through the locker rooms after coming close to capturing a second successive major title.

Yang Yong-eun provided the breakthrough last year when he spectacularly overhauled Woods to win the PGA Championship while Choi had the Masters in his sights until a back nine wobble.

"I think the back nine was definitely exciting," said Choi.

"The course was a lot longer on the back nine this year and you saw a lot of birdies and eagles and it just made the game much more exciting for the fans."

An unflustered Choi, who had the added challenge of partnering Woods for all four rounds as the world number one made his return after admitting to a string of extra-marital affairs, displayed remarkable cool under the spotlight.

During the final round Choi looked in control as the leaders faltered but in the end was unable to improve on his third place finish at Augusta National in 2004.

"It was exciting like 2004, but only this year I think it was, on a personal level, it was better for me because my playing level has improved a lot compared to 2004," said Choi.

"I think it was more gratifying for me this year and the fans were very supportive and just playing with Tiger for the last four days it was a very good experience for me."

(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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