Asian PGA Tour returns with SK Telecom Open

BY | Asian Tour | 2003 SK Telecom Open | Preview | 25 Jun 2003
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A stellar cast has been assembled for the US$400,000 SK Telecom Open this week with Korean superstar Choi Kyung-ju, Japan’s Shingo Katayama and former Major winner Corey Pavin joining the Asian PGA Tour’s finest in Korea.

Choi, known better as KJ, is the first player from his country to triumph on the US PGA Tour following victories at the Tampa Bay Classic and Compaq Classic of New Orleans last season.

Currently ranked 30th in the world, the former powerlifter, who grew up on Wando Island south of Korea, arrived home in Seoul last Wednesday with his family and is tipped to be one of the main contenders at Baekahmvista Country Club from June 26-29.

The SK Telecom Open is the ninth leg of the Asian PGA Tour.

Choi, who has one Asian PGA title following victory in his National Open in 1999, has posted four top-15 outings this season in America and capped his debut in the US Masters at Augusta National with a tied 15th finish, a performance which earned him a return to the year’s opening Major next season.

It was indeed a memorable outing for the Korean as he played alongside golf great Jack Nicklaus in the opening two rounds. However, he missed the cut at the US Open last week.

Choi will be eager to make an impact on home soil as he missed the cut in this event two years ago.

The 30-year-old Katayama is arguably one of Japan’s biggest stars. Famed for wearing a cowboy hat when he is playing, Katayama has won 13 times on the Japan Golf Tour including the Japan PGA Championship last month.

He shot to international fame in 2001 when he led the US PGA Championship at the halfway stage before finishing fourth. The slightly built Katayama was ranked number one on the Japan Tour in 2000 after capping his year in sensational style with three victories in the last four events.

Currently ranked third in Japan, he has not finished outside the top-three of the money list in the last three seasons and currently holds a world ranking of 57.

Katayama started wearing his cowboy hat in 2000 because “my face looked too big in regular caps” and won his first tournament, the Dunlop Phoenix Open, with the new look. Fijian Vijay Singh calls him the “Crocodile Dundee” of Japan.

Pavin, 43, won the US Open in 1995 for his lone Major success. Starting the final round three back of Aussie great Greg Norman, he closed with a 68 for a famous victory.

The American, who has 14 US PGA Tour wins under his belt, is no stranger to success in Asia as he has won several titles in the region during the 1990s including the Tokai Classic in Japan (1994), Asian Masters (1995) and Ssang Yong International Chalenge in Korea (1996).

Other Asian PGA stars tipped to challenge for honours at the SK Telecom Open include Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, home heroes Kang Wook-soon, Choi Gwang-soo and Chung Joon, winner of the Maekyung Open last month.

Former Order of Merit winners Kyi Hla Han of Myanmar and American Mike Cunning, who became the eldest winner on Tour following his triumph in the Indian Open in March, will also tee up at Baekahmvista Country Club.

Korea’s Hur Suk-ho, who enjoyed a breakthrough season last year with one victory each on the Japan Golf Tour and Asian PGA Tour, will also tee up at Baekahmvista. At the end of last year, he teamed up with Choi to help Korea finish third in the World Cup in Mexico behind winners Japan and the United States.

Source – Asian PGA Tour

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