Si Woo Kim hitting his tee shot on the par-3 17th hole during practice ahead of THE PLAYERS Championship. Credit Getty Images

Walking into the Champions Locker Room at TPC Sawgrass never gets old for Si Woo Kim.

As a 21-year-old, Kim became the youngest THE PLAYERS champion in 2017 and even some seven years later, the four-time PGA TOUR winner still gets goose-bumps thinking about his famous victory which saw him join idol and compatriot K.J. Choi as the only two Asian golfers who have triumphed in the TOUR’s flagship tournament.

“Every time I go into the (Champions) locker room, it feels a little bit more special because it is exclusive to winners of the tournament. I think Tiger Woods was in the locker room by himself a few years ago and I felt a little bit more special when I walked in there,” said Kim. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long but I can’t believe it’s been seven years. It has gone by faster than I thought.”

Kim is amongst a strong Korean contingent aiming for glory in the US$25 million tournament which showcases the strongest field in the game at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, often regarded as the purest test in golf. Other contenders flying the Korean flag will include World No. 18 Tom Kim, who is making his second appearance at the tournament, Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, K.H. Lee and S.H. Kim.

Si Woo knows now that he truly belongs to an exclusive club of champions at the tournament which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week. Other past winners include golf greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Fred Couples and Tiger Woods. Scottie Scheffler, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard last weekend, will defend his title in the 144-man event which includes 47 of the world’s top-50 golfers.

“It’s the biggest tournament on TOUR and has the biggest prize money, so everyone wants to win it. A lot of great players have won this and I’d love to go down in history as a two-time champion too,” said Si Woo, who recently welcomed the arrival of his first child, a daughter.

Byeong Hun An will be hoping to put up a strong title challenge in his sixth start at THE PLAYERS after posting his third top-10 of the season last week. “I know it’s the biggest tournament after the majors and I feel that way too. It’s the tournament for the best golfers in the world so I want to win it even more,” said the 32-year-old, who will be seeking his first PGA TOUR win.

“I think it’s a course that gets harder the more you know it. There is a lot of water around, so you have to make as few mistakes as possible.

“It is satisfying to be able to play golf this consistently this year. Being able to play for weeks without having a lot of ups and downs in every round is something that I think I have never felt in my professional career.”

Sungjae Im is keen to throw in his challenge for the swinging golfer trophy which comes with winning THE PLAYERS. He finished a career-best tied sixth in last year’s tournament and knows he must bring out his A-game to contend.

“This is a very historical event and some even call it the fifth major, so I’m looking forward to a great result. All the top players are here and everybody will be aiming to win. I will try my best to minimize my mistakes. Winning is not easy but I wish to make every single round count,” said the two-time winner.

Lee will make his fourth start at TPC Sawgrass looking for a first top-10, if not a third PGA TOUR victory. A tied fourth outing in his last start at the Cognizant Classic two weeks ago was just the confidence booster needed by the 32-year-old.

“I’m very excited. I hope to play well and have a good week. There’s no place to hide (on this golf course). Driving is very important as the rough is deep, so it’s the type of course where you feel like everything has to be perfect,” said Lee.

“This is a tournament that every player wants to win and there are a lot of really good players in the field, so to be able to win the event would be indescribable.”

As seen in so many past THE PLAYERS Championship, the closing stretch at The Stadium Course, the par-5 16th hole, par-3 17th hole with the island green and par-4 18th hole, will separate the contenders from the pretenders come Sunday and Lee hopes he will be amongst the front runners then.

“I think 16, 17 and 18 are the hardest holes. When the wind starts to pick up and you play nervously, they are very difficult holes. It feels like the final test to win the tournament,” said Lee.

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