Daniel Chopra has two wins in his last three starts.
Chopra looks to continue hot streak at challenging Waialae
KAPALUA, Maui » Daniel Chopra won't find the next golf course to be as accommodating as the one where he captured his second PGA Tour title.
Saying the wide-open spaces of the Plantation Course were built for him, Chopra will find the tight alleys of the Waialae Country Club much more challenging as he tries to do something only Ernie Els has managed since the Mercedes-Benz Championship and the Sony Open in Hawaii opened the tour season -- win both to start the year.
Chopra captured the winners-only Mercedes-Benz on Sunday evening in dramatic fashion as he held off Steve Stricker with a birdie on the fourth extra playoff hole. It was the second victory in his last three starts for the European player of Swedish and Indian descent.
Stricker lived up to his comeback player of the year award he won in 2007 by shooting a final-round 9-under 64 to be the clubhouse leader at 18 under for the tournament as Chopra walked up to the 18th tee needing a birdie to win. As happened on more than one occasion over his last five holes, Chopra left his birdie attempt at the last one roll shy of falling in, forcing a playoff.
Twice more Chopra would leave the golf ball in the jaw of the cup, only to see an unseen insect or blade of grass keep him from winning the elite tournament. His tap-in for birdie at the par-5 ninth, with the sunlight fading over his shoulders, forced Stricker to match him from 15 feet, but the American pulled it wide left, giving Chopra the biggest win of his career.
For him to match that feat this week, he'll need to keep his drives steady and true at a course that puts more emphasis on shot-making than bombs off the tee. It doesn't bode well for Chopra, who finished No. 189 on the tour last year for accuracy off the tee. The Plantation Course has fairways as wide as a football field. Waialae offers no such amenities.
Not that Chopra is losing any sleep over that fact. The man who joined the tour in 2004 and finished 48th on the money list last year is still trying to establish himself as one of the game's up-and-coming stars. Already 34, it's not as if he just picked up the sticks yesterday. He's been toiling away at his craft as a professional for 15 years, only recently finding the winners circle.
He would like nothing better than to stay hot and procure a spot on the Ryder Cup team for Europe, knowing that's a tall order to fill. One thing that might help if he doesn't finish in the top 5 is a captain's pick from Nick Faldo, who is a part-time color commentator for the Golf Channel.
"Well, he's watched me play now, a little bit," Chopra said. "Hopefully, he'll have some insight into what I can do to improve or -- I'm sure we'll chat about it soon. I have thought about the fact that he's out there watching, Captain. The fact that the Ryder Cup is here in the United States on an American-style golf course, which I'm used to playing, maybe that's something that might be beneficial to the team.
"Who knows, we'll see. I've obviously got some Ryder Cup points that will propel me up the rankings, but the European Tour has a lot of tournaments and I still have to be in the top 5 of the ranked players in the world and then they go to the next five. It's not like in America where I have to be in the top 10."
Just the fact he's even in a position to be considered is a big step for Chopra, who won his first tour event late last year at the Ginn sur Mer Classic at Tesoro. He won two Nationwide Tour events in 2004, before joining the tour later that year. His best finish prior to that win was a tie for second at the Frys.com Open in 2006.
But two wins in his last three starts -- how does that happen?
"I don't know," Chopra said. "You know (David) Duval did the same thing. It's happened to a lot of players. You just need to get comfortable with the situation. I definitely felt 10 times more comfortable going out there today than I did that final round at Tesoro."