Korean star Sungjae Im romped to a stylish 8 and 6 victory over American Maverick McNealy as the Asian brigade enjoyed a stellar opening day at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play on Wednesday.
Countrymen Si Woo Kim and debutant Tom Kim secured a 4 and 3, and 2 and 1 wins over Chris Kirk of the U.S. and Sweden’s Alex Noren respectively while Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama ground out a 1-up victory over former champion Kevin Kisner at Austin Country Club.
The only Asian golfer to suffer an opening day loss in the first of three round-robin group matches was K.H. Lee, who fell 3 and 1 to left-handed American Brian Harman. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler launched his title defence with a hard-fought 1-up win over Davis Riley while second-seed Jon Rahm fell to a 2 and 1 loss to a resurgent Rickie Fowler.
The 24-year-old Im registered the third largest margin of victory in the history of the tournament as he capitalised on McNealy’s erratic play which included five bogeys through 12 holes.
Im, making his third appearance in the Dell Technologies Match Play, hit three birdies which proved sufficient to put him firmly in control of his own destiny as he seeks to advance beyond the group stage for the first time in his third appearance at the event.
“I was able to win by a huge margin, and it is always better to win fast in match play. Maverick missed some shots and his game was not quite on track, it was not a good day for him. That enabled me to win easily. I have two more days to go, so I’ll try my best,” said the World No. 18, who faces J.T. Poston in his next match.
“It is important to win the first match, although it is always unpredictable in the group stage. Even though you have two wins, you might not advance. I will try to focus until the end. I will be playing with J.T. tomorrow and I think he will not make many mistakes,” added Im, who improved his tournament record to 3-4-0.
With his right arm tapped as a precaution, Tom Kim enjoyed a winning debut over Europe’s Ryder Cup stalwart, Noren. The 20-year-old Kim made six birdies to end the match on the 17th hole.
“It was definitely an up-and-down match. It wasn’t easy. I had some mistakes that I could have fixed, but I played really well. And Alex definitely is a fighter and I knew that, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I just kind of kept my head down,” said Kim.
The talented youngster starred at the Presidents Cup last September by producing some clutch golf and knows the experience will come in handy in the Dell Technologies Match Play as he seeks his third PGA TOUR victory in his blossoming career.
“It was definitely a good experience for me,” said Kim, who won two points for the International Team last fall. “I think it’s an event that I’ve always wanted to play, and definitely with the pressure that I’ve built up from the Presidents Cup I feel like it’s a great experience, and definitely using it this week.”
Si Woo Kim, who has advanced beyond the group stage only once in six previous attempts, produced some flawless golf including a chip-in eagle two on the par-4 13th hole from 25 yards en route to his triumph over Kirk. He made five other birdies.
“I was just trying to play my own game and it worked. Started the first few holes well, driving the ball well, and my irons and putting also felt comfortable. I think that’s why I finished nicely. It’s important to win the first match. If you lose, you then lose confidence and concentration. With this start, I’m excited and it gives me more energy. The eagle two on 13 was really nice, and it felt great,” said Kim.
Matsuyama, an eight-time PGA TOUR winner, was delighted to pull off an opening win over match play expert Kisner, who won in Austin in 2019 and finished runner-up twice as well. His preparation for this week’s US$20 million showpiece was limited due to a neck strain.
“I won the match, so it was very good,” said Matsuyama, who is making his eighth appearance and had progressed beyond the group phase only once previously since the format was introduced in 2015. “There were times that I was not playing so well but those shots helped me keep the momentum.”