Choi wins, with consolations for Goydos and Els

Sunday, October 29th 2006, 6:14 pm
By: News On 6

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) _ One pure shot from the first fairway sent K.J. Choi to an easy victory Sunday in the Chrysler Championship. One clutch shot from the 18th fairway made Ernie Els feel like a winner, too.

Choi hit a 3-wood into 20 feet for an eagle on the opening hole, staking him to a big lead he never surrendered at Innisbrook. He closed with a 4-under 67 for a four-shot victory over Paul Goydos and Brett Wetterich, making him eligible for the next two tournaments _ the Tour Championship next week, and the winners-only Mercedes-Benz Championship to start next year.

But he wasn't the only winner.

This was the final full-field event of the year, with so much at stake for so many.

Els played his worst round of the week, and a bogey put him in danger of falling out of the top 30 and missing the Tour Championship. But he saved par from the bunker on the 17th, then came up his most important shot of a mediocre year. After driving into the trees and pitching back to the 18th fairway, Els hit a wedge from 51 yards that stopped inches away for a tap-in par.

Had he made bogey, he would have finished 31st on the money list by $852.

``The last two up-and-downs were big,'' Els said. ``I'll remember those for a long time.''

Goydos felt even better. He was 160th on the money list and expecting to go back to Q-school to get his card. He put together his best four rounds of the year, making a 4-foot par on the 18th hole for a 70 that left him tied for second. That was worth $466,400, moving him up 63 spots to No. 97 on the money list.

Asked if he was expecting a big rally like this, the refreshingly honest Goydos replied, ``No.''

``I shot a billion at Disney last week,'' he said. ``My expectations were to miss the Halloween party by making the cut, and then building on a few things for Q-school.''

As he walked off the 18th green, he looked at tournament director Gerald Goodman and said, ``I was going to beg you for a sponsor's exemption next year.''

Now, Goydos can play wherever he wants as the PGA Tour embarks on its new FedExCup competition.

There were other winners along the money chain.

A month after making his Ryder Cup debut, Vaughn Taylor was in serious danger of falling out of the top 40 and missing an automatic spot in the Masters. That's a lot of pressure for a guy living in Augusta, Ga., but he showed some mettle.

``I played a solid back nine,'' Taylor said in a typical understatement. He birdied his next three holes, took 10 putts on the back nine, came home in 30 for a 69 and easily finished inside the top 40.

Troy Matteson was 172nd on the money list six weeks ago until he went on a tear, finishing in the top 10 every week and winning in Las Vegas. He tied for ninth at Innisbrook and wound up 36th on the money list to earn his first trip to Augusta National.

``This is a tournament I would think I'd play maybe a couple times in my career,'' Matteson said. ``To have made it my first year on tour ... I may have to stew on this one a couple of days. It's really exciting.''

Also earning a Masters invitation was Camilo Villegas, the rookie from Colombia, who closed with a 69. Missing out was Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who was No. 40 going into Innisbrook but shot 76-75 on the weekend and slipped to No. 42.

Mark Calcavecchia moved into the top 125, and while he was exempt next year because of his '05 Canadian Open victory, this puts him into The Players Championship next year.

Darren Clarke finished at No. 125 by $2,673 over Rich Beem, who is exempt from his '02 PGA Championship. Except for Goydos, the only player who could have knocked out Clarke on the last day was Duffy Waldorf, who was No. 131. He needed at least a 67 but shot 72.

It was much easier to keep track of the tournament.

Choi finished at 13-under 271 and won the Chrysler Championship for the second time in five years.

He seized control from the start, blistering an approach that never left its line and settled 20 feet away on the par-5 opening hole for an eagle that set the tone. That immediately boosted his lead to three shots, and no one got closer than two the rest of the way.

Els quickly went the other direction.

He hasn't had a better chance all year to win on the PGA Tour, only one shot behind and playing solidly. But he missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the opening hole, a drive into the left rough led to bogey on No. 2, and the Big Easy was reeling.

On the sixth, Els hooked a fairway metal into the trees, took four shots to reach the green and took double bogey. And when he came up short of the ninth green and took another bogey to out in 39, he was on the ropes. Gone was his chance of winning, and he was outside the top 30 on the money list.

On the par-5 14th, Els hit driver off the deck from 280 yards, a risky play that turned out brilliantly. It landed on the front of the green and stopped rolling 3 feet from the cup for eagle to move him back to 8 under, safe for getting into the Tour Championship.

But it was a scrape the rest of the way, especially after a bogey on the 16th.

The Tour Championship already is missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and it can hardly afford to miss more star power in Els.

``I'll be the happiest guy there,'' Els said of East Lake in Atlanta. ``Normally you go there like it's no big deal. But this was hard work.''