Sungjae Im of Korea (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Korea’s Sungjae Im is confident he can challenge for a second victory at The Honda Classic this week as he makes a welcome return to the site which launched him to stardom on the PGA TOUR two years ago.

The ultra-talented 23-year-old enters the tournament as one of the hot favourites at the US$8 million tournament at the PGA National Resort and Spa’s Champion Course in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Other contenders include last week’s winner Joaquin Niemann, four-time major winner Brooks Koepka, former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen and title holder Matt Jones.

All eyes will be on Im as he holds the lowest score average of 69.25 at the Champion Course for any player with a minimum of 10 rounds at the site. Tiger Woods ranks second with 69.27.

“I earned my first win here at PGA National. I think I can have another great week and I’ll be trying to focus on each shot. If can play my best, I will be able to find myself up on the leaderboard,” said Im, who is presently fifth on the FedExCup standings.

In 2020, the man nicknamed “Ironman Im” broke through for his career first title on the PGA TOUR with a one-stroke victory at the Honda Classic. He has since grown from strength to strength, adding a second victory last October at the Shriners Children’s Open in Vegas and has so far added three top-10s and two other top-20s to his 2021-22 campaign.

The Champion Course is rated as amongst the toughest on TOUR, with Hole Nos. 15-17 being known as the “Bear Trap” and ranking as the fourth toughest stretch of holes amongst courses that have hosted tournaments (non majors) for at least 10 years or more. Since 2007, the Bear Trap has also yielded 1,604 balls in the water.

But for Im, the tougher it is, the better for him.

“The course is tougher than two years ago so I need to focus on that. Honestly, I shine more on tough courses. Golf courses in Florida have hard greens and they are fast. My shots trajectory are high which creates more spin so they roll less and allows me to create more chances with my second shots,” said Im, who finished tied eighth in his Honda defence last year.

“When I won here, I was able to overcome the Bear Trap and made two birdies (on 15 and 17) during the final round. That’s the most memorable thing that I remember and it gave me the momentum to win. Overcoming the Bear Trap was special.

“My game feels good. I changed my backswing slightly from last July and I think that effect is helping me. It fits my very well. I’ve kept my arm and body together as one movement, turning together. I think that change is giving me more consistency.” 

Another strong week will also take Im, who is the 24th ranked golfer in the world, closer to a second appearance for the International Team to face the United States in the Presidents Cup at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina this September.

When he made his debut in 2019 at Royal Melbourne, Im emerged as one of the stars by contributing 3.5 points. He will play the first two rounds this week with fellow International teammate Louis Oosthuizen and Australia’s Lucas Herbert.

Other Asian stars in the field include Im’s compatriots K.H. Lee and Sung Kang, India’s Anirban Lahiri, Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who is coming off a top-10 last week.

- Advertisement -