Korean star Sungjae Im shot a solid 3-under 68 for tied fifth place at the US$20 million Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday as he bounced back from illness last week.

The two-time PGA TOUR winner hit five birdies against two bogeys at Quail Hollow Club in the sixth Signature event of the season and trails first round leader Xander Schauffele, who fired a fine 64 which included a touch of good fortune for a three-stroke lead over Collin Morikawa, Alex Noren and Rory McIlroy.

Korean duo Si Woo Kim and Byeong Hun An carded matching 70s while Tom Kim signed for a 73. Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama withdrew prior to the start of his round with a back injury.

“It was great start today,” said Im. “I had a bogey on the second hole which made it little difficult at the start but I was able to make up with birdies from seven to nine. I had some tough moments on the back nine with the last few holes being very tough holes and there were some winds too. But overall I was able to finish well.”

The 26-year-old Im was delighted to be back in action at Quail Hollow where he finished tied eighth last season and also featured for the International Team in the 2022 Presidents Cup at the highly rated golf course. He had to skip last week’s THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson in Dallas after falling ill upon his return from Korea following a successful defence of a Korean PGA Tour tournament.

“I was not feeling well last week which made me withdraw from the tournament of my main sponsor, CJ. I really wanted to play but after taking the week off, I’m feeling a lot better. I still have little cough but will keep track on my condition to see what I can do this week,” he said.

The smooth-swinging Korean bogeyed his second hole with a three-putt from the fringe, but made up with three consecutive birdies on the seventh, eighth and ninth holes, with the third birdie being from 19 feet. He drained another lengthy 18-footer on 13 before picking up another gain at the next hole from five feet. He safely navigated the final three holes dubbed the “Green Mile” with pars for his strong start.

“The greens are little harder and there are two holes with brand new tee boxes. It is about 20 yards longer which made me to use long iron with the second shots. The 16th hole must be the toughest one out there which gave me some difficulties. I think I need to watch that out for this hole over the next three days,” said Im, who finished tied 12th at the RBC Heritage in his last PGA TOUR start and began the week in 48th place on the FedExCup standings.

Starting his day from the 10th tee, Schauffele, a seven-time PGA TOUR winner, hit an eagle and birdie over his last three holes on the seventh and ninth holes to open a three-shot lead which is the largest 18-hole lead in the tournament history. He got lucky on the seventh hole after playing partner Wyndham Clark found his ball within the allotted three minutes to search for a ball following an errant drive, and then was subsequently able to take a drop due to a Shotlink tower.

“Got really lucky multiple times,” Schauffele said. “One with Wyndham finding it, two, being able to move the rocks, and three, the ShotLink tower being in, like, my only shot line possible. To walk out there with sort of a no-breeze 4, with what I thought was almost out, was a really good break.

“I brought the rules official in there with me because I was like, you’ve got to be OK with this because this is literally the only shot I can hit. So Austin (his caddie) and I moved two massive rocks that weren’t embedded and then I got relief out of the junk and then hit a pretty good shot on the green from there. What was a very stressful moment turned into a pretty stressless par.”

First-Round Notes – Thursday, May 9, 2024

Weather: Cloudy. High of 79. Wind SW 12-22 mph. The start of the first round was delayed 1 hour due to a dangerous weather situation and began at noon ET. Preferred lies were in effect during the first round.

First-Round Leaderboard

Pos.        Player                                   R1

1              Xander Schauffele            64 (-7)

T2           Collin Morikawa                67 (-4)

T2           Alex Noren                          67 (-4)

T2           Rory McIlroy                       67 (-4)

- Advertisement -