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K.J. Choi celebrated his final birdie of the day, which gave him a one-shot lead heading into the weekend. (Lyons/Getty Images)

Low-key Choi has a major love for links golf

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K.J. Choi leads a major for the first time in his career, but his Friday 67 was no surprise. The quiet Korean feels very comfortable on links courses, and his results show it.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SOUTHPORT, England - The contrast was striking. One of the game's most colorful characters and one of its most low-key; the bold, blonde Aussie and the hard-working, quiet Korean.

K.J. Choi normally shuns the spotlight, but the workmanlike man from the island of Wando on the Korean coast couldn't avoid it Friday as he made birdie on his last two holes to seize the halfway lead from Greg Norman at the 137th Open Championship.

Choi fired a 67 on Friday at Royal Birkdale and is the only man under par at the end of 36 holes played in intermittent rain and gusty winds that sent scores soaring and fans scurrying for umbrellas. Norman, mounting an improbable and inspiring bid for a third Open at the age of 53, is one stroke back after consecutive rounds of even par.

Choi says he knows the man who will captain the International Presidents Cup team the Korean hopes to make in 2009 well enough to say hello, but the two have never played a round together. That will change on Saturday when they tee off at 9:40 a.m. ET in the final group.

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"I think today was probably my best round I've ever played at the British Open," Choi said, with his manager Michael Yim handling the duties as interpreter. "Today all my shots, the swing, putting, everything worked the way I wanted it to. I think the key thing right now is to maintain my body condition and try to finish it out.

"The fan support today was wonderful. I got a lot of motivation out of that."

Choi, who won the Sony Open in Hawaii earlier this year, put together another solid round on Friday afternoon. He bogeyed the first hole, but answered with four birdies on a dank and dreary day when Birkdale yielded sub-par scores grudgingly.

Choi started his run with a 9-iron that settled 12 inches from the pin at the third hole. He rolled in a 20-footer for birdie at the 13th hole, two-putted from 30 feet at the par-5 17th and capped off the day's second-best tally with a 20-footer at the 18th hole.

While Choi has contended in other majors, with top-10s at both the Masters and the PGA Championship, he's played some of his best golf at the Open. At Royal Troon in 2004, he opened with rounds of 68 and 69 and went on to tie for 16th. He shared eighth last year at Carnoustie after opening with consecutive 69s and contending throughout the week.

"The reason I like to play the links course is because I feel like when I stand on the tee box I can see everything," Choi said. "It just comes well into my eye. It's very easy for me to set a target and just go with it. So I feel very comfortable playing on the links courses. I think my swing is very good this week, very powerful, simple, so I feel very good this week."

Choi has never led a major championship, though, and he knows there are 36 tough holes in what could be brutal conditions remaining to be played. He's anxious to take another step and see how he responds.

"With the experiences of playing in numerous other majors before, I think the key thing that I've learned is to stay patient," Choi said. "And the other thing is try to get as much rest as you can and not be too aggressive out there. I'm just going to take the approach of being a learner and not get too confident."

While Koreans are dominating the LPGA Tour of late, no male player from Asia has ever won a major championship. Choi's adopted home is in The Woodlands, Texas, a Houston suburb, but he is keenly aware of what a win would mean in the country of his birth.

"If I were to win this, the reaction back in Korea would be tremendous," Choi said. "I know just because it's a major tournament. I know there's a lot of people that are praying for me back home."

The key, Choi knows, is remaining on an even keel.

"I think the important thing ... is just trying your best," he said. "I know that sounds very ordinary, but that's all you can do. In major tournaments you have to be patient. You have to just not take things for granted, just take it day by day.

"There are so many good players out here playing this week, especially at majors, and I watch every one of them and I learn something from them. I think the important thing is just seeing, observing, staying patient and getting a lot of rest."

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