An early bogey jolted Korean star Sungjae Im into life as he fired a superb 5-under 66 in the first round of the US$20 million RBC Heritage for a share of fifth place, two back of clubhouse leader Viktor Hovland.
The World No. 17 was hot with his iron play at Harbour Town Golf Links on Thursday as five of his six birdies were inside of nine feet while he holed a monstrous 36-footer for birdie on the seventh, having started the day from the 10th hole.
Im emerged as the leading Asian in the eighth designated tournament of the PGA TOUR 2022-23 season, a sign of his recent run of good form where his last four starts have seen him finish inside the top-21 including a tied sixth at THE PLAYERS Championship last month and a T16 at last week’s Masters Tournament.
Compatriot Si Woo Kim opened with a 70 while Tom Kim and K.H. Lee shot matching 71s to lie just outside the projected cut mark.
Im, who is chasing a third PGA TOUR victory, dropped a shot on his second hole, the 11th, after failing to save par from the greenside bunker. It however sparked his round as he rebounded quickly with a tap-in birdie at the next hole before adding a second birdie from five feet on the 15th hole from yet another decisive approach shot.
Poor weather disrupted his afternoon round but Im finished strongly with four birdies over his last five holes.
“With a bogey at the start, I didn’t make it easy. But I made up with a birdie at the next hole which was a great turning point. We had to endure a suspension of play and I felt bit tired waiting. However, after I got back on course, I was able to make birdies again, so overall it was a great round,” said Im.
Im is making his fifth start at the RBC Heritage, which has in recent years produced Asian winners in Satoshi Kodaira of Japan (2018) and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan (2019). Pan, making a return from a five-month injury layoff, opened with a 73.
The 25-year-oold Hovland, who was the co-first round leader at the Masters before finishing tied seventh, fired a bogey-free 64 as he chases a fourth PGA TOUR win. Newly crowned Masters winner Jon Rahm, who is also the World No. 1, opened with a 72 while defending champion Jordan Spieth shot a 68.
Im is looking to sustain his title charge on Friday, keen to take advantage of the morning conditions.
“Since I had a good start, I will be playing in the morning and I am looking forward to another great round. On this golf course, you need to hit your driver well to be in position to attack. There are some challenges for some second shots where you need to shape the shots into the greens. I will stick to my game plan, “said Im, who hit 10 of 14 fairways in his first round.
Partial First-Round Notes – Thursday, April 13, 2023
Weather: Mostly cloudy with showers. High of 72. Wind ESE 12-15 mph, with gusts to 25 mph. Play was suspended due to inclement weather at 2:52 p.m. ET and resumed at 4:16 p.m. (a delay of 1 hour, 24 minutes). Play was suspended due to darkness at 7:50 p.m. with six players left to complete the round. The first round will resume Friday at 8 a.m. and the second round will begin as scheduled at 7 a.m.
Viktor Hovland 64 (-7)
Brian Harman 65 (-6)
Jimmy Walker -6 thru 16*
Aaron Rai -6 thru 15
Leading Asian/Australian Scores
Sungjae Im 65 (-6)
Adam Scott 69 (-2)