Korea’s S.H. Kim holed out for a stunning eagle and made five birdies for a 7-under 65 at the Fortinet Championship on Thursday as compatriots Sung Kang and Sangmoon Bae also enjoyed fast starts.
The 24-year-old Kim took full advantage of some wonderful ball-striking at Silverado Resort in Napa, California to end the day in solo second, with the highlight being a wedge approach shot from 106 yards that found the cup at the par-4 14th hole. He trails Lucas Herbert of Australia, who stormed to an opening 63.
Like Kim, Kang and Bae, who are both winners on the PGA TOUR, enjoyed bogey-free outings as they carded rounds of 66/T3 and 67/T9 respectively in the first event of the re-imagined PGA TOUR Fall Schedule. Japan’s Satoshi Kodaira also carded a 67.
The tenacious Kim continued to show his growing potential, although he admitted being disappointed to miss the FedExCup Playoffs after concluding the Regular Season in 83rd position following eight top-25 finishes.
“I felt comfortable as I played this event last year. Although the order of the holes has been changed, the shapes are still very much the same. I had a good round without too much difficulty,” said Kim. “I had a tough par save on the first hole but overall, I finished well with no bogeys. My mid and long-range irons worked well.”
Three of his five birdies came from inside of 14 feet and his putter lit up on the ninth and 17th greens when he rolled in putts of 21 and 37 feet respectively. “I was driving it well. Usually, my iron and putter can get a little off but I found my groove during practice last week,” said Kim, who finished T36 in Napa last year.
Bae, whose two wins on TOUR include a victory here in 2014 Fortinet Championship, showed glimpses of his best form with five birdies on the card – all from inside of 10 feet – as he ranked fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting. The 37-year-old has been relatively quiet with his form following a career best year in 2015 where he made it to the TOUR Championship and featured in the Presidents Cup in Korea.
“I really like this course and I’m very comfortable when I’m here. I worked really hard with my putting last week and it worked. I made just one birdie on the par 5s … that’s kind of a little off but I had a good round. Really happy with that,” said Bae.
“(Last week) I was really sticking to reading greens, which I think is important. I took like almost one and a half months off and stayed at home, but coming here, I have a good vibe and good memory. I pretty much really know this course.”
Kang, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson in 2019, produced six birdies to give himself a shot at enhancing his PGA TOUR playing rights for 2024. Currently ranked 193rd from 15 starts through his past champion category, the 36-year-old needs to work his way into the top-125 at the end of the Fall schedule in November.
The FedExCup Fall is made up of seven events that will crown PGA TOUR champions and finalize the top-125 and additional playing opportunities for the 2024 Season, which begins in January as the TOUR returns to a calendar-year schedule for the first time since 2012. Nos. 1-50 in the FedExCup standings through the TOUR Championship are locked in their positions, while Nos. 51 and beyond carry their FedExCup points over and accumulate through The RSM Classic.
The winner of the Fortinet Championship will receive the same benefits of winners of Full-Field events during the Regular Season, including 500 FedExCup Points, Official World Golf Ranking points, a two-year PGA TOUR exemption (exempt thru 2025) and invitations to The Sentry, THE PLAYERS Championship, Masters Tournament and PGA Championship. The purse for the Fortinet Championship is US$8.4 million with the winner earning US$1,512,000.
First-Round Notes – Thursday, September 14, 2023
Weather: Sunny. High of 85. Wind S 8-15 mph.
Lucas Herbert 63 (-9)
S.H. Kim 65 (-7)
Sung Kang + 5 players 66 (-6)
Selected Asian Scores
Sangmoon Bae 67 (-5, T9)
Satoshi Kodaira 67 (-5, T9)
KH Lee 70 (-2, T35)
C.T. Pan 71 (-1, T60)
Carl Yuan 72 (E, T86)
Marty Dou 72 (E, T86)