Yang, Choi lead Asian charge

2011-04-08 10:55
KJ Choi (AP)
Augusta - South Korea's two biggest golf stars have found Augusta National to their liking and the result is Yang Yong-Eun and K.J. Choi share third place after Thursday's first round of the 75th Masters.

By Sunday evening, it could mean an Asian slipping on the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy for the first time in history.

Yang and Choi each fired five-under par 67s in round one to stand two strokes adrift of pace-setters Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Alvaro Quiros of Spain after 18 holes on the famed course.

"It's a very good course for Koreans," Yang said. "It's typical of a Korean course, so if you are on a good day, I think it's to our advantage, really, this course is."

Yang shared eighth at last year's Masters, his first major event after winning the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine to become the first Asian man to capture a major golf crown.

"It definitely builds on the confidence and the momentum," Yang said of his solid Masters finish. "Although it's a year apart, still, coming over here and putting on a good performance in one of the best arenas possible, I think it only builds upon your confidence.

"Hopefully, it doesn't dwindle and I can ride upon it for three more days."

Choi finished third in the 2004 Masters and shared fourth last year and sees Augusta National bringing out the best in his game because it has a similar atmosphere to Seoul Country Club with pine trees and swirling winds protecting undulating greens.

"This course, you have to really focus to be able to hit the greens," Choi said through a translator. "They are very sloping. I feel comfortable because I know where to hit the ball on the green and where to attack the fairways."

Choi, seven times a US PGA winner, birdied all four par-5 holes, the first two helping him play the front nine at one-under 35. But a bogey at the par-4 11th served as a wake-up call.

"I hit a good shot but I made a bogey. That was like a medicine for me," Choi said. "If I had made par I would have been too excited and lost my rhythm. On 13, I made a nice tee shot and that started a good rhythm."

Choi birdied three holes in a row starting at 13, two par-5s sandwiched around a par-3, and he closed with back-to-back birdies to leap up the leaderboard.

Yang went four-under par 32 on Augusta National's perilous front nine with birdies on both par-3s, the fourth and sixth, plus the par-5 eighth and par-4 ninth.

After his first bogey at 11, Yang answered with an eagle at the par-5 13th and birdied at the 15th and par-3 16th to nab a share of the lead before stumbling in with back-to-back bogeys.

"I saw myself in the leaderboard tied with the leader and I guess I got a little bit overzealous in the last two holes," Yang said.

"It's a bit disappointing to finish off two bogeys in a row and go back down two behind the leader, but at the same time there is still a lot of golf left and it has been an overall good experience. I hope it doesn't end prematurely."

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