Korea’s Sungjae Im started fast and finished strong to remain in contention after the third round of the US$20 million WM Phoenix Open on Saturday.
A second successive 4-under 67 at TPC Scottsdale moved the 24-year-old into a share of the sixth position on 9-under 204, four adrift of world No. 2 Scottie Scheffler who carded a 68 in his title defence of the fifth oldest tournament on the PGA TOUR.
Scheffler holds a two-shot lead over his closest pursuers – Canadian Nick Taylor (67) and Spaniard Jon Rahm (68), who is chasing a third TOUR victory in four starts. Jordan Spieth (69) and Adam Hadwin (71) share fourth place on 203 in what is the second designated tournament of the year.
Im, a two-time PGA TOUR winner, birdied two of his opening four holes which included a 38-footer on the par-3 4th hole before marking his scorecard with three more birdies and a lone bogey over the five-hole stretch starting from Hole No. 13. He made birdies on all the three par-5 holes.
The Korean star was happy to remain the hunt despite wielding an errant driver, hitting only seven fairways. “In the front nine, there were not many opportunities due to poor tee shots, but as my driving improved on the back nine, I was able to create more opportunities. There was not too much wind too coming in, so it became a little easier to manage my game.”
Im knows he has to keep his foot on the pedal in his bid to end a 16-month title drought dating back to October 2021 when he won the Shriners Children’s Open and also etch his name into the tournament’s history books as the second Asian winner after Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who won at TPC Scottsdale in 2016 and 2017.
He is also keen to deliver a third birdie of the week at the famous par 3 16th hole, which has a purpose-built arena that fits 17,000 fans. “I think I have a chance, if it is not windy tomorrow. I think there will be good results if we stay calm. This tournament is famous for the loud fans, so I’m going to enjoy the atmosphere. It is a unique experience, and I like it,” said Im.
Scheffler, who is defending a PGA TOUR title for the first time, birdied Hole Nos. 2, 4, 14 and 17 to offset a lone on 13 to retain his overnight lead. The American will also be seeking to become the seventh player to successfully defend the WM Phoenix Open, with Matsuyama being the last player to do so.
“I haven’t been thinking about it too much,” said Scheffler about his thoughts on the first title defence bid. “I didn’t start at a couple under this week. Everybody started even. Had to go out there and do my best. I’m in the position now. Something I talked about at the beginning of the week was I felt like I’ve been on the outside looking in on Sundays. To be in the final group with a two-shot lead, I believe, is definitely a position I want to be in.
“I don’t like showing up at tournaments and finishing 30th. I like being up by the lead and having a chance to win. Today was a lot of fun going out there and grinding and hitting some really nice shots under pressure. Tomorrow, I hope it’s more of the same.”
Korea’s Si Woo Kim, the Sony Open in Hawaii winner last month, jumped 20 rungs to T20 on 208 following a 67 while Matsuyama continued his resurgence by carding an identical score to power from T54 to T25 on 209. Tom Kim was left rueing a costly double bogey on the last hole as he slipped to T28 after battling to a 73.
Third-Round Notes – Saturday, February 11, 2023
Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 64. Wind E 10-20 mph.
Scottie Scheffler 68-64-68—200 (-13)
Nick Taylor 66-69-67—202 (-11)
Jon Rahm 68-66-68—202 (-11)
Jordan Spieth 71-63-69—203 (-10)
Adam Hadwin 66-66-71—203 (-10)
Leading Asian/Aussie Scores
Sungjae Im 70-67-67 – 204 (-9, T6)
Jason Day 65-71-68 – 204 (-9, T6)
Si Woo Kim 72-69-67 – 208 (-5, T20)
Tom Kim 71-66-73 – 210 (-3, T28)