Korean star Sungjae Im soared on eagle’s wings as he flew into second place with a superb 7-under 63 following the first round of the Wyndham Championship on Thursday as countryman Joohyung “Tom” Kim continued to impress a week after securing his PGA TOUR card.
India’s Anirban Lahiri was another leading Asian performer as he enjoyed a solid 66 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina for his best score since May. American John Huh leads the US$7.3 million tournament following a career-low 61.
The 24-year-old Im, currently 15th on the FedExCup standings, expertly holed identical 20-foot putts for eagles on Hole No. 15 and 5 after starting his day from the 10th. With his immaculate ball striking where he hit 17 greens in regulation, he picked up four more birdies on Hole Nos. 11, 16, 17 and 6 against a lone bogey on the 4th. Im had also shot two eagles in the third round of the RBC Heritage in April.
“I think the course here suits me very well,” smiled Im, who holds two top-10s at Sedgefield. “I was able to start my round with two eagles which I’m very happy about. I also shot a few birdies at the beginning so that helped create a good feel for my game.”
The Korean, who is nicknamed Ironman Im, was delighted with his putting, where he ranked ninth in the Strokes Gained: Putting stat after day one against his season’s current standing of 61st place. He needs a two-way T2 or better to have a chance to finish in the Comcast Business TOUR TOP 10, which will earn him a US$1 million bonus payout.
“I’ve got two top-10s here and I always make the cut and do great. I hope it will continue this week. The Playoffs will start soon and I hope my game continues from now to the end of the season. I hope I can finish great,” said the two-time PGA TOUR winner.
Kim, who virtually secured his PGA TOUR card for next season after a seventh place finish in the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday, could only laugh at himself after staggering off the first green with a quadruple bogey eight. The 20-year-old fought back with seven birdies, including four in the last six holes, to sign for a creditable 67 for T23 position.
“I was only laughing because it was the first hole of the day and it was probably the worst start I’ve ever had in my career so far. All I could do was laugh because just some shots I hit there was pretty awful. But I don’t know, for some reason I felt calm. It was one bad hole and I just told myself, you know what, I can still get this, I can still shoot under par today and somehow I did,” said Kim.
A recent 10-day trip back to India to fine-tune his game with swing coach, Vijay Divecha, seems to have paid off as Lahiri, who was runner-up at THE PLAYERS Championship in March, shot a 66 for a share of 14th position. He had missed four of his last five cuts which prompted his trip and a closing bogey failed to dampen his spirit.
“I’m really excited about how I’m playing. I think I played really, really good. Putted pretty bad, to be honest, and still shot a good score. I think the time off working with my coach, going back to India, like I can feel that confidence. I’m seeing shots better, I’m hitting much, much better golf shots. Obviously you’ve got to go clean up a little bit and hopefully kind of bring it all together,” said Lahiri, who ranked fifth in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green but was 112th in the putting category.
At a venue where countryman Arjun Atwal wrote a slice of golf history by becoming the first Indian winner on the PGA TOUR in 2010, Lahiri knows there is plenty to play for especially with the FedExCup Playoffs starting next week and with the Presidents Cup International Team qualifying concluding in three weeks’ time.
He feels at home at Sedgefield, and hopes to keep up with his form to gain some momentum heading into next week’s FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of three legs in the Playoffs. “It’s a lot like what I played growing up. Bermuda is something that comes naturally to me, although I don’t think I’ve ever played Bermuda greens as fast as this. I’ve shot some good scores here and hopefully I can just build on this,” he said.
“I’ve kind of cooled off a little bit since May. I had a good stretch going there from THE PLAYERS onward, I had some good momentum, took a break and haven’t really been able to get back to playing my best. And I’ve not played the last three weeks, that was another decision I took with just going and seeing my coach and just getting back to where I believe that when I heat up, that I can contend and I can really compete and I feel that way starting this week.”
First-Round Notes – Thursday, August 4, 2022
Weather: Mostly sunny. High of 93. Wind SW 6-12 mph.
John Huh 61 (-9)
Sungjae Im 63 (-7)
Peter Malnati 64 (-6)
Brandon Wu 64 (-6)
Nine players 65 (-5)