Korea’s Si Woo Kim emerged as Asia’s lone winner on day one of the US$12 million World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play following a hard-fought 2-up win over Daniel Berger as compatriot Sungjae Im and Japanese debutant, Takumi Kanaya suffered losses.
Kim, a three-time PGA TOUR winner, raced to a 4-up lead over the 17th seed Berger through seven holes at Austin Country Club before the American cleaned up his act briefly by winning three straight holes around the turn to reduce the deficit to 1 Up.
Clinging on to his slender lead going into the last hole, Kim closed out the match with a 5-foot birdie to set up an enticing showdown against England’s Ryder Cup star, Tyrrell Hatton who defeated South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout 3 and 2 in the other Group 13 match.
“I was 4-up the front nine, so I was trying to finish earlier but Daniel played well on the back nine. It was tough the last six holes, kind of the pressure and everything. But I managed to hold off and had a good finish. Looking forward to tomorrow,” said Kim, whose best finish was a fourth round appearance here in 2018.
The 26-year-old Kim is expecting a tough match against Hatton as he seeks to stake a claim on the International Team for the Presidents Cup slated for September. He is presently ranked 14th on the team standings, with the top eight earning automatic places when qualifying concludes in August.
“He’s a good player, a good putter. However I will just focus on my own game, and not on him,” said Kim of his next match against Hatton. “I like match play. It’s more fun than normal because I don’t have to be focused on every hole. If I lose a hole, just lose. It’s fun to play match play.”
Im headed straight to the practice range after a 5 and 4 beating at the hands of Ireland’s Seamus Power, who never trailed in their match and rattled in four successive birdies from the 11th to 14th holes to close out the Korean. Im made only two birdies and dropped three bogeys and one double bogey for his disappointing start.
He faces Keith Mitchell in a must-win second Group 4 match on Thursday. Mitchell tied 2021 FedExCup champion, Patrick Cantlay in an exciting match which leaves the group wide open.
Kanaya, who is a former world amateur No. 1, battled toe-to-toe with seventh seed Xander Schauffele and trailed 1-down through nine holes. The American star switched up a gear with three birdies on his inward half to cruise to a 3 and 2 victory over the young Japanese.
The 23-year-old next faces Tony Finau on Thursday.
Since the tournament’s inauguration in 1999, the best finish by an Asian golfer was achieved by Toru Taniguchi of Japan when he finished third in 2001 after he beat Ernie Els in the consolation match in Australia.
In recent years, another Japanese, Hideto Tanihara, finished fourth after a gallant run in 2017 at this week’s venue, the Austin Country Club while Korea’s K.J. Choi (2008), Y.E. Yang (2011) and Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee (2010) and Kiradech Aphibarnrat (2018) were all quarter-finalists.