Sungjae Im of Korea rode a hot putter to seize a one-shot lead at The American Express following a blemish-free 7-under 65 at PGA West Stadium Course in La Quinta, California on Friday.
The 22-year-old rising star put himself in prime position to win a second PGA TOUR title after registering a career first 24 total one-putts in the opening 36 holes to lead on 11-under 133.
Countryman Si Woo Kim is amongst those in a big chasing pack after carding a 68 which featured six birdies while American Tony Finau (66), Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (65), Nick Taylor of Canada (66) and overnight leader Brandon Haggy of the U.S. (70) joined Kim on 134.
Byeong Hun An, one back at the start of the day, fell off the pace following a 73 to stand at 138 while K.H. Lee returned a 71 for tied 37th place. With the halfway cut set at 4-under 140, Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan (71) and Anirban Lahiri (73) missed the mark by one. China’s Xinjun Zhang also missed the cut by two shots following a 72.
Ultra-talented Im, who finished tied fifth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii two weeks ago, rammed home a bunch of lengthy putts as he birdied Hole Nos. 12, 13, 18, 1, 3, 7 and 8 to grab his third ever second round lead/co-lead in his blossoming career.
He credited extra hours on the practice putting green this week and drawing a line on his golf ball for his hot streak. “I was struggling with my putting, so I worked on my putting a lot and I dropped a lot of mid-range putts. I started drawing a line on the ball and as I visualize my putts, that seemed to work pretty well,” said a delighted Im, who ranked second in Strokes Gained: Putting through two rounds.
His career has continued to trend sharply following his memorable Presidents Cup debut in December 2019 where he contributed 3.5 points for the International Team. Last March, Im broke through for his maiden PGA TOUR title at The Honda Classic and he later sweetened his season by finishing 11th in the FedExCup final points list in August, emerging as the leading Asian.
Later in November, he stamped his mark with a tied second finish in his Masters Tournament debut, recording the best outing at Augusta National by an Asian player.
“I feel comfortable playing at The American Express and visually from the tee box it’s a course that I really like and enjoy to play, so I feel really comfortable throughout the round and the two courses that we’re playing this week,” said Im, who finished tied 10th here last year.
Kim, a two-time TOUR winner, bogeyed his 17th hole to miss the opportunity of joining Im at the top of the leaderboard. Playing on the Nicklaus Tournament Course, he made six birdies against two dropped shots. His stellar play this week has made up for last year’s disappointment at The American Express where he had to withdraw after the first round with a back injury.
(15th of 50 events in the 2019-20 PGA TOUR Season)
La Quinta, California January 18-24, 2021 FedExCup points: 500 (winner)
PGA WEST PETE DYE STADIUM COURSE Par/Yards: 36-36—72/7,147 Purse: $6,700,000
PGA WEST NICKLAUS TOURNAMENT COURSE Par/Yards: 36-36—72/7,181
Second-Round Notes – Friday, January 22, 2021
Weather: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67. Wind SSE 8-12 mph, gusting to 18 mph.
36-hole cut: 72 players at 4-under 140 from a field of 156 professionals
Sungjae Im 68-65—133 (-11) NT-SC
Nick Taylor 68-66—134 (-10) NT-SC
Tony Finau 68-66—134 (-10) SC-NT
Abraham Ancer 69-65—134 (-10) SC-NT
Si Woo Kim 66-68—134 (-10) SC-NT
Brandon Hagy 64-70—134 (-10) NT-SC