For the third consecutive year, Korean standout Sungjae Im will enter the weekend rounds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard inside the top 10 on the leaderboard. He finished in the top-three in his first two appearances at Bay Hill Club & Lodge and hopes to be third-time lucky by winning the prestigious PGA TOUR tournament.
Im, who is ranked 17th in the world, posted a second round 2-under 70 on Friday and sits at 5-under 139 in tied seventh place through 36 holes. He trails leader Corey Conners by four, while Martin Laird sits in solo second at 8-under. Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy and Lanto Griffin are a further stroke back in share of third place.
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond fired the day’s low score with a superb 65, which was a 10 shot improvement from his opening round. The former Asian No. 1 took advantage of his local course knowledge as he is Bay Hill member after staying with two-time PGA TOUR winner, Daniel Chopra for nearly four months during the COVID-19 pandemic last year. He enters the third round in tied 11th place, five off the lead.
Chasing a second TOUR win, Im made the turn at even par — a 22-foot birdie putt at the par-3 second was offset with a bogey at the par-5 sixth— before moving into red numbers with a birdie at the 10th. Though a double bogey at the 13th moved him to 1-over for the day, the 22-year-old quickly rallied at the ensuing par-3, pouring in a 30-foot birdie putt to get back to even-par. He ended his day on a high note at the par-5 16th, which he eagled after hitting his 190-yard approach shot inside 10 feet. He eagled the 16th on Thursday as well.
“I hit my driver well and found a lot of fairways. It helped me with my second shots. The rough is difficult here, so keeping the ball on the fairway is key. I have made some good scores over the past two days due to my driving,” said Im, who missed only one fairway during his second round.
A return to Bay Hill, home to the late golf legend Arnold Palmer, is always special. As the 2019 Rookie of the Year and recipient of the Arnold Palmer Award, the Korean star enjoyed the privilege of a tour of Palmer’s office last year. “I know Arnold Palmer is a legend in golf and a great player in the era,” Im said previously. “I think I have something connected to Arnold Palmer.”
With his putter finding its range where he ranks sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting over two rounds, Im hopes his flatstick will continue to produce the birdies and eagles in hope of a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which is one of three elevated tournaments on the PGA TOUR. “I think my form is almost the same as the last couple of weeks. If I can make some putts at the critical moments, I would be good enough to compete for the top,” he said.
Fellow countryman Byeong Hun An, who was tied for fourth after 18 holes, sits at T21 on 2-under 142 after struggling Friday en route to a 2-over 74.
Thai star Jazz was delighted to bounce back to life in the morning wave. The 25-year-old burst out of the gate with five birdies on the back nine, starting at the par-4 11th hole, where he rolled in a 15-foot putt to get his day started. He added three more birdies on Nos. 14 through 16, the first of which he poured in from 33 feet, before adding one final birdie at the 18th prior to making the turn.
Though he dropped back to 4-under with a bogey at the par-3 second, Jazz closed with three birdies over his final five holes. He connected on lengthy putts from 17 and 16 feet at Nos. 5 and 6, respectively, before tallying his eighth and final birdie of the day at the last, when he stuck his approach shot inside 10 feet.
“Yesterday, none of the putts dropped but I guess I kept it all for today,” said Jazz. “Everything I seemed to do was better, like I hit my irons a little better and putt a little better which added to a good round. Last year, I was here for like three to four months. I’m a member here which helps as it’s like home course advantage. I’ve played on this course more than any other place in my life. Usually when I’m home I don’t really play that much.
“After THE PLAYERS Championship got cancelled (last year), I literally didn’t have anywhere to go because Thailand was shut. I was in Jacksonville and I called Daniel and said ‘hey can I stay here for a few days’ and I ended up staying with his family for three to four months. He caddied for me a couple of times on TOUR too.”
By advancing to the weekend at Bay Hill, Jazz has now made the cut in three of four starts during the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season. He tied for 60th at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD and tied for 51st at The Masters Tournament. His best finish on TOUR remains a tie for 14th, which he accomplished twice in 2019 the PGA Championship and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama shot a second round 70 to make the halfway cut with one stroke to spare but C.T. Pan (74), Sung Kang (77), Anirban Lahiri (78) and K.H. Lee (78) all missed the cut. Si Woo Kim withdrew following Thursday’s opening round.
Second-Round Notes – Friday, March 5, 2021
Weather: Mostly sunny. High of 77. Wind NNE 6-12 mph.
36-hole cut: 73 professionals at 2-over 146 from a field of 122 professionals and one amateur
Corey Conners 66-69—135 (-9)
Martin Laird 69-67—136 (-8)
Viktor Hovland 69-68—137 (-7)
Rory McIlroy 66-71—137 (-7)
Lanto Griffin 69-68—137 (-7)
Bryson DeChambeau 67-71—138 (-6)