South Korea’s K.J. Choi, who tied for fourth with Tiger Woods at the Masters last week, continued his strong play on Thursday to seize the first-round lead at the Heritage.
Choi, who played with Woods all four rounds at the Augusta National, showed no sign of a let-down as he fired a seven-under 64 to take a two-shot lead.
Canada’s Mike Weir and England’s Greg Owen shared second on 66, followed by a big group on 67 that included Spain’s Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk of the US and Davis Love, a five-time winner.
While many of last week’s Masters standouts, including champion Phil Mickelson and Woods, are taking this week off, Choi was happy to try to build on his momentum.
“I’ve been playing good and I guess I wanted to keep the rhythm going,” he said.
Choi nabbed three birdies over four holes on the front nine at Harbor Town to take the lead. He separated himself with a similar burst on the back nine as he notched his lowest score of the season.
Choi rolled in a 30-footer for birdie on the 13th to catch Jerry Kelly and Love. He closed his charge by sticking his approach shot within two feet at 16 for birdie.
Choi, who will be 40 next month, said he reveled in every Masters moment with Woods. He said playing with the embattled superstar, whose every move was under the microscope after a sex scandal that led to a five-month absence, helped him improve his patience.
“I think that is only going to help me more and I’m thankful for the experience I had with Tiger,” he said.
Choi has only played this tournament once before, missing the cut in 2001.
Weir, too, had only played Hilton Head once before, in 1999, but the 2003 Masters champion is planning to take a break this summer for some family celebrations — he and wife Bricia’s 40th birthdays, his brother’s 50th and his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary — so he wanted to play some earlier tournaments.
Indeed, Weir, who started on the 10th, had an eagle on the par-four first hole, holing an eight-iron from 144 yards.
Owen has missed five cuts this season and withdrew from his last event, the Houston Open. His round was his lowest in more than two months.
There was a fun flashback for Jerry Kelly, whose hole-in-one at the par-three fourth was his second at the same hole, which he aced in 2007.
Filipino Jay Bayron survived a watery end to his third round to fire a two-under 70 and finish top of the leaderboard for the third successive day yesterday.
Bayron, on 13-under 203, is two shots ahead of compatriot Mars Pucay, who carded the same score in the opening event of the Mercedes-Benz Tour.
In windy conditions Bayron found the water on the par-five 17th with his second shot, carding a bogey, shortly after playing partner Pucay saw his tee shot splash into the lake on the par-three 16th, ending with a double-bogey.
Despite their erratic finish, the pair have a cushion from the chasing pack, with Angelo Que and Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines and Dutchman Guido Van Der Valk, four adrift of Bayron.
Filipino Artemio Murakami, lying in joint sixth, equaled the course record at the Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club with a 64.
■MOJO 6 JAMAICA
AP, MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
Cristie Kerr, Na Yeon Choi and Amanda Blumenherst each scored 13 points in their three six-hole matches on Thursday to top the quarter-final qualifiers in the inaugural Mojo 6 Jamaica LPGA Invitational.