Korean duo Sungjae Im and S.H. Kim scrambled brilliantly all day in The Honda Classic to stay hot on the co-leaders’ heels on Thursday.
Im, winner of the tournament in 2020, opened with a solid 3-under 67 to share sixth place at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and trailed Billy Horschel and Joseph Bramlett, who shot matching 65s, by two in the US$8.4 million PGA TOUR tournament.
A short-game masterclass enabled Kim to stay close to the lead following a bogey-free 68, which saw him save par on eight occasions as he looks to emulate Im and Y.E. Yang (2009) as a winner at The Honda Classic.
“It went well in the first round. I had some difficult times but was able to save pars,” said the 24-year-old Im, who entered the week with two top-10s over his last three starts.
After holing a 19-foot birdie on the first, Im, who was second in the FedExCup last season, made the turn in 3-under with further gains on the third and eighth holes before dropping his lone bogey on 16 following a three-putt. He bounced back with a nine-foot birdie on his last. Im, ranked 18th in the world, was 5-for-5 in scrambling.
“I made three birdies on the front nine but not able to make birdie on the 9th (from four feet) which kind of stopped my momentum. The winds picked up on back nine and it got a little harder but I think it was a decent round overall. I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said the two-time PGA TOUR winner.
Kim graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour last year and has enjoyed a consistent rookie season on the PGA TOUR so far, finishing top-10 once and posting three other top-25s to be ranked 52nd on the FedExCup points list.
The 24-year-old made birdies from inside of 15 feet at the 14th and third holes after starting his day on the back nine and was delighted to keep the bogeys off his card on the Champion course which is rated amongst the toughest on TOUR.
“I was quite busy saving pars,” said Kim, who has won on the Japan Golf Tour and Korean Tour. “I think it went well for me to be bogey-free.”
His highlight was at the challenging par-3 17th hole, which is part of a treacherous three-hole stretch nicknamed the Bear Trap after course designer Jack Nicklaus. His tee shot fell short of the green and landed on the edge of a water hazard but Kim, with one foot in the water, blasted out from the poor lie and holed a nine-footer to save par.
“I thought my ball went into water. But (playing partner) Jason Dufner checked it and waved at me to come up to the green. The lie was pretty okay and I could give it a go and was able to save par which was good,” said Kim.
Horschel, one of the favourites this week, posted his lowest score in 33 rounds at The Honda Classic as he chases an eighth PGA TOUR victory. “Just played really solid,” said the 36-year-old American, who is ranked 19th in the world.
“Didn’t do anything special. Hit some quality iron shots here and there. I wouldn’t say everything was sort of automatic and it was easy. I had to just sort of work my way into making some good swings. But overall it was a really solid day of golf. Making a couple putts there at number 11 and 13 from about 25, 30 feet never hurts. Sort of got me in a good frame of mind and got me with some good mojo going early,” he said.
Partial First-Round Notes – Thursday, February 23, 2023
Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 84. Wind SE 8-14 mph, with gusts to 18 mph. The first round was suspended due to darkness at 6:18 p.m. ET with 12 players left on the course and will resume Friday at 7:45 a.m. The second round will begin as scheduled at 6:50 a.m.
Partial First-Round Leaderboard
Joseph Bramlett 65 (-5)
Billy Horschel 65 (-5)
Pierceson Coody 66 (-4)
Justin Suh 66 (-4)
Carson Young -4 thru 15 (started on No. 10)
Leading Asian/Australian Scores
Sungjae Im 67 (-3, T6)
S.H. Kim 68 (-2, T14)
Geoff Ogilvy 68 (-2, T14)
Minwoo Lee 68 (-2, T14)
Carl Yuan 70 (E, T49)