LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – MAY 16: Tom Kim of South Korea reacts on the 18th green during the first round of the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club on May 16, 2024 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Korean star Tom Kim is displaying his pedigree once again after equaling his career best score in a major championship with a 5-under 66 for a share of fifth place in the first round of the PGA Championship on Thursday.

The 21-year-old Kim, who is a three-time PGA TOUR winner, has endured a challenging season without a top-10 to show for through 13 starts but a near flawless round at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky was enough reason to inject some optimism and confidence that better days are just around the corner.

“Great. I played really nice, really solid. Just to kind of get things going, second major championship of the year, and definitely put myself in a good position and just going through the same game plan for tomorrow,” said Kim, the highest placed Asian through 18 holes.

Xander Schauffele, last week’s Wells Fargo Championship runner-up, holds the lead after a record-setting 9-under 62, the lowest score in PGA Championship history, and leads by three from Tony Finau, Sahith Theegala and Mark Hubbard, who shot 65s.

Major debutant, S.H. Kim of Korea, opened with a solid 69 while 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was the only other Asian player who broke par with a 70. Byeong Hun An, ranked sixth on the FedExCup points list, carded a 71 comprising of two birdies against as many bogeys.

In a city well known for horse-racing and the Kentucky Derby, Tom Kim, who finished T8 and T2 at the U.S. Open and The Open Championship respectively last season, is fast becoming a familiar name atop major championship leaderboards. He also shot 66s in the final round of last month’s Masters Tournament, and the third round of the U.S. open last year.

He began his day with a 21-foot birdie on the first hole before adding another on the seventh. He then edged up the leaderboard with a burst of three birdies over a four-hole stretch, with a lone bogey on 14 being erased with a final birdie on 17 from five feet. He drove the ball beautifully all day, hitting 13 fairways and was precise with his putter where he ranked fifth in Strokes Gained: Putting.

“I was just going into the back nine with the same game plan and gave myself some good opportunities. Made some good putts coming in. Just overall has been really, really solid,” said Kim, who missed the cut in his three previous appearances at the PGA Championship.

“It’s not always smiles. A lot of people see me smiling a lot but it’s not always smiles, trust me. But you know, I just try to put on a good face and just try the best I can.”

Despite his young age, Kim knows only too well that he needs to remain patient and stick with his process to get back to his best form which saw him become the fourth youngest player in history to win three PGA TOUR titles. Only Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith and Tiger Woods, all World Golf Hall of Famers, were younger than Kim to achieve the same feat.

“More experience. More scar tissues definitely gets you a tougher player, and I’ve been playing really good golf. Just haven’t really seemed to get things going, but to do this in a major championship shows me a lot more about myself and gives me more confidence,” said Kim, who was T30 at the Masters last month.

Starting his day in the afternoon wave, he showed his grit to remain within striking reach of an in-form Schauffele. “I mean, just playing in the afternoon with a packed field, the greens just get beat up. That’s one of, I think, the advantages that the morning has with soft greens, especially when they’re rolling really good. I think the guys who did shoot under par in the afternoon did a really good job of going after it,” said Kim.

First-Round Notes – Thursday, May 16, 2024

 Mostly cloudy. High of 80. Wind WSW 5-10 mph.

Suspension of play: Ten-minute delay to first-round tee times due to fog.

First-Round Leaderboard

1Xander Schauffele62 (-9)
T2Tony Finau65 (-6)
T2Sahith Theegala65 (-6)
T2Mark Hubbard65 (-6)
T5Seven players66 (-5)
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