Sungjae Im enjoyed back-to-back top-10s as he led a record three Korean golfers into the FedExCup Playoffs Finale, the TOUR Championship, following a thrilling conclusion at the BMW Championship won by a fast-charging Viktor Hovland on Sunday.
Im, who holds the honour of posting Asia’s best finish in the FedExCup following a runner-up outing last season, fired a closing 4-under 66 at Olympia Fields for solo seventh at 10-under, a distant seven strokes back of Hovland who stormed to his fifth PGA TOUR victory following a career low and course record 61.
After a tied sixth in the first FedExCup Playoffs event in Memphis last week, the 25-year-old Im successfully advanced into his fifth straight TOUR Championship at East Lake in Atlanta after jumping from 28th to 17th position on the FedExCup points list.
Joining Im at the TOUR Championship, limited to the top-30, are Tom Kim, who will make his debut in the season finale following a T10 finish, and Si Woo Kim, who settled for T31 to qualify for his second appearance. Tom, who at 21 is the youngest player in the Playoffs, moved to 16th place on the FedExCup standings while Si Woo dropped to 20th. K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang featured in the TOUR Championship in 2011 while Im and K.H. Lee qualified last season.
It is also the second year running that three Asian golfers have made it all the way to the Playoffs Finale as Matsuyama, who withdrew from the second round of the BMW with a back injury, qualified with Im and Lee last season.
“I have a lot of good memories of East Lake because I finished second there last year, so I’m looking forward to the week,” said Im, who is a two-time PGA TOUR winner.
World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler will begin the TOUR Championship on Thursday at 10-under in the staggered-start event based on FedExCup positions. It will be the second year in a row Scheffler will enjoy a two-shot head start after he finished tied second at the BMW, which saw him pass previous leader points leader Jon Rahm.
Hovland’s victory moved him up to second on the points list and will begin at 8-under, followed by reigning FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy (7-under), who came in solo fourth in Olympia Fields. Rahm starts the final event of the 2022-23 Seeason on 6-under while Im, Tom and Si Woo will all start on 2-under.
No Asian golfer has won the FedExCup since its inauguration in 2007 although Im had a sniff at East Lake 12 months ago after battling McIlroy and Scheffler down the back nine. He will ride on some new-found momentum to Atlanta as Sunday’s 66, highlighted by five birdies against a lone bogey, was his 12th consecutive round in the 60s since tying for 14th place at the Wyndham Championship.
“My driver accuracy was really good this week and my iron shots were good as well,” said Im, whose ninth top-10 of the season took his earnings to over US$6.4 million. “My putting was a little disappointing though as I missed a few medium and short range putts. I think I could have made a few more birdies.”
Tom Kim will relish a first visit to historic East Lake following weekend rounds of 66 and 63 which punched his ticket to Atlanta. It was his eighth top-10 of the season, which includes a win at the Shriners Children’s Open last October. Byeong Hun An finished the tournament in 46th position as his bid to qualify for the TOUR Championship came to an end with a final round 76.
Hovland, the World No. 5, brilliantly hit 10 birdies and a lone bogey to post the lowest final round in FedExCup Playoffs history en route to his second win of the season, which also puts him in the hunt for FedExCup, which comes with a US$18 million winner’s cheque.
“To win at a place like this and amongst the best players in the world, and to do it that way, making seven birdies the last nine holes … that was pretty cool,” said the 25-year-old Norwegian. “After making the turn, stuffed it on 10, hit it close on 11, stuffed it on 12, and that’s when I kind of felt like I hit the groove a little bit. Obviously I wanted to win, but when I made the putt on 15 for birdie, I felt like, okay, we’ve got a chance now. Then when I made a birdie on 17, I was feeling really good and the birdie on 18 as well, I felt like I could win it outright.”
Final-Round Notes – Sunday, August 20, 2023
Weather: Mostly sunny. High of 89. Wind NE 8-12 mph.
|1||Viktor Hovland||69||68||65||61||263 (-17)|
|T2||Scottie Scheffler||66||69||64||66||265 (-15)|
|T2||Matt Fitzpatrick||66||67||66||66||265 (-15)|
|4||Rory McIlroy||65||70||67||66||268 (-12)|