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Sungjae Im wins The Honda Classic for first PGA TOUR title

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - MARCH 01: Sungjae Im of South Korea reacts to his birdie on the first green during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course on March 01, 2020 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA - MARCH 01: Sungjae Im of South Korea reacts to his birdie on the first green during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course on March 01, 2020 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)



    Sungjae Im tames The Bear Trap at Honda


    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Sungjae Im is tireless, and no longer winless.

    The 21-year-old South Korean started fast and finished stronger Sunday, winning The Honda Classic by one shot over Mackenzie Hughes and Tommy Fleetwood for his first career PGA TOUR victory in his 50th attempt.


    Related: Leaderboard | Winner's Bag: Sungjae Im, The Honda Classic


    Im shot a 4-under 66 on Sunday, finishing at 6 under to match the second-highest winning score since The Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007. He was the TOUR's rookie of the year last season, plus has played more tournaments and more rounds than anyone since the 2018-19 season began nearly a year and a half ago.

    And now, he's a winner -- the seventh from South Korea to win on TOUR, and The Honda Classic's 10th international champion in the last 16 seasons. He's also the fifth player to get that first win at PGA National, joining Keith Mitchell in 2019, Michael Thompson in 2013, Y.E. Yang in 2009 and Mark Wilson in 2007.

    Im birdied four of his first five holes, then birdied two of the final four to finish off the victory and pick up $1.26 million.

    Hughes, a Canadian who made the cut on the number Friday, shot his second consecutive 66. Playing alongside Im, he was part of some serious fireworks on the last two holes and missed a birdie putt at the par-5 finishing hole that would have gotten him into a tie for the top spot.

    Fleetwood, who is still seeking his first PGA TOUR win, started the day one shot clear of the field and started birdie-birdie to get to 7 under at that point -- matching what was the low score in relation to par of the week.

    Then PGA National did what it usually does, that being not let anyone run away from the pack.

    Fleetwood made bogey on the par-4 6th and couldn't get up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-4 8th, giving back what was left of his lead at that point and sharing the top spot at 5 under with Im and Steele.

    Moments after Im finished, Fleetwood made a 25-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th to get to 5 under.

    But Fleetwood's second on the par-5 finishing hole leaked right and splashed into the water, and once his attempt at a miracle hole-out after a drop from 120 yards didn't fall Im could finally exhale as the winner.

    That's when Im could hug his caddie in the locker room, where he watched the last 20 minutes or so on a monitor.

    "I've been in this spot many times. ... I just felt like the experience really helped," Im said through a translator.

    Some of Im's best moments have come when no one has been looking.

    He was third at the Zozo Championship in Japan last October, a finish totally overshadowed by Tiger Woods tying the PGA TOUR record of 82 career victories. And in November he went 3-1-1 to tie for the best showing by a player on the International Team at the Presidents Cup, but the U.S. Team captained by Woods rallied in Singles on the final day to win the trophy at Royal Melbourne.

    But this time, he was on center stage and embraced the moment.

    Hughes and Im went to the par-3 17th green -- the end of the "Bear Trap" three-hole stretch -- in wildly different spots. Im stuck his tee ball to just inside of 8 feet, while Hughes had nearly 55 feet left from above the hole.

    Hughes rolled in his most improbable birdie to an enormous roar, pulling into a tie with Im at 5 under.

    If Im was worried, it didn't show.

    Im took a couple looks at his downhill line, took his putter back just a couple of inches and watched the ball roll in for a birdie that allowed him to reclaim his lead at 6 under -- this time, for good.

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