Korean star Sungjae Im is eager to drive off with a third PGA TOUR win this week with a return to his happy hunting ground at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
The 24-year-old Im claimed his maiden victory at The Honda Classic three years ago and naturally holds fond memories of his career breakthrough, which laid the foundation to establish himself as one of the world’s top players.
“I’ve won this tournament in 2020. It is always special to compete in this tournament every year. Maybe it is because I had my first win here, and I feel very happy and special. It is always refreshing,” said Im, who is ranked 18th in the world.
The Honda Classic marks the start of the Florida Swing on the PGA TOUR and Im couldn’t be happier with his present form following two top-10s in his last three starts. With this week’s PGA National Champion Course rated amongst the toughest on TOUR, he knows he must stay patient throughout the week to give himself every chance at a second victory here.
Sepp Straka is the defending champion this week and other contenders include Shane Lowry, Billy Horschel and Matt Kuchar
“I don’t think we need that many birdies on this course,” said Im, who won the tournament on 6-under in 2020, and finished tied eighth in his title defence.
“We got some winds out here and the course is hard, so I need to be able to keep my score and that’s for the best. I’ve already got three top-10s (this season) and I’ve been able to keep the momentum. I want my third win but it is always hard to win out here. I will try to be patient and calm in every tournament. I think I will get a chance soon.”
Since breaking through from the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, Im’s rise has been rapid, which includes two impressive appearances in the Presidents Cup for the International Team and a second TOUR victory at the 2021 Shriners Children’s Open. When he won The Honda Classic, Im pulled off several clutch shots down the stretch that runner-up Mackenzie Hughes said he felt like it was “man vs machine.”
The stretch of 15th to 17th holes this week is nicknamed The Bear Trap, after course designer Jack Nicklaus and Im recalled with fondness how two birdies on the two demanding par-3 holes on 15 and 17 clinched the title for him where he struck two glorious tee shots that landed inside of eight feet for pivotal birdies.
“In 2020, I’ve made birdies on 15th and 17th. They are probably the most difficult holes on the golf course. I was very nervous. That shot on 15, I tried to be aggressive to gain some momentum for the win. I was pretty nervous and felt a lot of pressure but I overcame those feelings,” said Im, who finished runner-up in the FedExCup last season.
“In 2021, I was on tied eighth. Because of the first win, I felt very confident.”
Two more newly designated events – the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship – will follow after The Honda Classic which Im is looking forward to as well.
“We’ve got big events coming up in the next few weeks. I’m competing with the best players in the world and the stronger the fields, I get more excited. I’m happy to have this opportunity to compete with the best players in the world. PGA TOUR events are always special in every part,” he said.