Korean star Sungjae Im hopes to be the last man standing at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play this week.
The 24-year-old, who is presently Asia’s highest-ranked golfer in the world at No. 18, will make his third appearance at Austin Country Club with high hopes of progressing into the knockout stage for the first time.
As one of the seeds, Im is drawn into Group 16 alongside Europe’s Ryder Cup stalwart Tommy Fleetwood, J.T. Poston and Maverick McNealy, whom he faces in his first round-robin group match on Wednesday. The winner of each of the 16 groups will advance into the knockout stage over the weekend.
“Match play is my favourite format,” said Im, despite a less than stellar record in the event where he has bowed out of the group stage in his two previous appearances following a 2-4-0 record.
“It is a lot different than regular (strokeplay) tournaments, so it’s important to know your opponent well in every moment. When they make a mistake, you have to focus on your own game and not make the same mistake. I think that’s a big part of match play which I enjoy.”
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who won the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament, THE PLAYERS Championship two weeks ago, will defend his crown in the US$20 million showpiece which will feature the leading available 64 players in the world. To win this week, the champion needs to play seven matches in the span of five days.
Other Asian stars in the elite field include Im’s countrymen Si Woo Kim, and debutants Tom Kim and K.H. Lee. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama will make his eighth appearance in the Dell Technologies Match Play where his best result was a Round of 16 appearance in 2015 where he lost to eventual winner, Rory McIlroy.
Im, who represented the International Team in the Presidents Cup in 2019 and 2022, is buoyed by a career first top-10 at THE PLAYERS Championship a fortnight ago despite opening with a 75 at TPC Sawgrass.
“I played well at THE PLAYERS,” said Im, who finished tied sixth. “I was out of position in the first round but I was able to finish with a good result. After that, I enjoyed a week off, and I think I now have a lot of energy because I am recharged.
“All three players in my group are good players. I think I’ll have to strategize well, think well out there and think how can I beat them. I’m going to try my best to win a lot of matches. This course is not long, but there are tricky holes. I think I can make enough birdie opportunities and play well.”
Like Im, Lee is also a two-time PGA TOUR winner and he is excited to switch to Match Play mode following his debut appearance in the Presidents Cup last September where he won two points for the International Team.
“I don’t have too much experience here but the Presidents Cup last year was really good for me. I’m an aggressive player and I like this format. Sometimes, you can shoot six birdies and your opponent shoots eight birdies during a round but you can still win the match. I really like this hole-by-hole play,” said Lee.
Japan’s Toru Taniguchi holds the honour of being the best Asian finisher in the history of the tournament when he finished third in 2001. In recent times, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat qualified for the quarterfinals in 2018, as did countryman Thongchai Jaidee in 2010. Korean K.J. Choi was also a quarterfinalist in 2008 while Japanese Hideto Tanihara finished fourth in 2017.