Monday Finish: Im breaks through at The Honda Classic
March 02, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Sungjae Im's winning highlights from Honda
International… International! Sungjae Im has long been predicted to be a breakout star in the world of golf. He delivered on said promise at The Honda Classic with a clinical performance on a tough layout. Im surged through the Bear Trap on Sunday to take victory by a shot over MacKenzie Hughes and by two over Tommy Fleetwood, who, to his credit, went down swinging. Two seasons ago, Im was Player of the Year on the Korn Ferry Tour. Last season, he was given the Arnold Palmer Award as the PGA TOUR's Rookie of the Year. The progression continues.
The victory means four members of Ernie Els’ international team from last December’s heartbreaking Presidents Cup loss in Melbourne have come out and won on TOUR in the opening two months of 2020. The South Korean joins Australians Adam Scott, Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman on the victory dais. Since The Sony Open in Hawaii, non-American players have won six of nine TOUR events. Will this trend continue or is a American surge coming as we gear up into the Season of Championships?
Welcome to the Monday Finish.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS
1. Precision. Sungjae Im’s teammates at the Presidents Cup just referred to him as Iron Byron or The Machine. They marveled at the precision of his incredible, slow and rhythmic backswing along with his precise ball-striking over and over again. To a man ,they said he would win on TOUR sooner rather than later, and most definitely more than once. The 21-year-old picked the Champions Course at PGA National apart from tee to green. He was 11th in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, fifth in Strokes Gained: Approach and fifth in Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green. When it was added together, he led Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green by a large margin at +12.3, three more than the next player Russell Henley. Read more on the key numbers here.
2. Resilience. The Bear Trap? What trap? Im came to the infamous three-hole stretch (15-17) on Sunday having made bogey on two of his previous three holes while trying to close out his first PGA TOUR win. It was the recipe for disaster if ever there was one. But the youngster stood up and trusted his swing under pressure. Remember the precision we mentioned above? Believe it or no,t Im hit his tee shots on the par-3 15th AND the par-3 17th to seven feet, 10 inches and nailed both putts. Playing 15-17 2 under on Sunday is the best by a winner since 2007 and forced the hand of his competitors. Fleetwood went for broke and birdied 17, but found water on his approach on 18 needing another birdie. Get more about Im's win here.
3. Youth. How else can you describe the fact Im has played a million rounds of golf the last two seasons, yet been so incredibly good the majority of the time? OK, it’s not a million rounds, but it is a lot of golf. Since the start of last season, no player has played more rounds on the PGA TOUR than Im with his 168 – the next closest is Adam Schenk’s 148. In this timeframe, Im has the best cumulative score to par (-286), most rounds of 66 or better (26) and has made 137 more birdies than any other player (702). He has not showed any signs of burnout at all to this point and hopefully that continues. The win came in his 50th career start on TOUR, and he has 23 top-25s from those starts. Not a bad clip to start out. He takes the number of players 22 or younger to win since last June to five. And will he slow down now that he has his win?
“I plan on playing almost every week, maybe take an event off during the Texas swing, but nothing confirmed,” he said. “As of right now, just the one in mind, and planning to play them all.”
Sungjae Im's news conference after winning Honda
Tommy is terrific. Tommy Fleetwood may have fallen just short again in his chase for a maiden PGA TOUR win, but his talent cannot be underestimated. He is clearly a global star and his wins in Europe should carry enormous weight when thinking of his status in the game. So, too, should his entertainment value! Fleetwood wears his heart on his sleeve, says what he feels and leaves it all out there when competing. Sure, winning on TOUR will take things to another level, but don’t be surprised if his first TOUR win comes at THE PLAYERS Championship or one of the majors. No one will question his skills then. Read more on his play here.
Hughes shows one must never give up. Mackenzie Hughes had missed nine of 11 cuts this season before he found his way to the weekend on the number at The Honda Classic. Sitting in a slump is never fun, but when his friend passed away last week, he got a dose of reality that was perhaps needed. With his friend's initials on his golf ball, Hughes reminded himself how lucky he was to just be out playing golf for a living. On Saturday and Sunday, the former RSM Classic winner just let it flow. His 66-66 was the best of the weekend and rocketed him all the way to second place. It facilitated a jump from 223rd in the FedExCup to 66th, sending him towards a possible Playoffs berth. Read more here.
“Just comparing today's pressure to that pressure, I felt a little less nervous than I did during the Presidents Cup, so experiences like that have really helped me.” - Sungjae Im
“Wherever I am, in a hotel or wherever, I feel like this is going to be one of the happiest nights of my life.” - Sungjae Im
“I didn't do that much wrong really. It comes down to fine margins… It's disappointing, but it was close.” – Tommy Fleetwood
The Wyndham Rewards Top 10 is a season-long competition that offers a $10 million bonus for the 10 golfers who end the regular season at the Wyndham Championship inside the top 10 in FedExCup points. The player atop the standings will earn $2 million, with varying payoffs for the others through $500,000 for the 10th place finisher.
Justin Thomas continues to hold the top spot this week, but The Honda Classic winner Sungjae Im has him in his sights, having rebounded from falling outside the top 10 last week back up to second place. His efforts mean everyone else in the top 10 slides down a slot ,with Cameron Smith the man outside looking in.
Other significant movers this week were Mackenzie Hughes from 223rd to 66th, Byeong Hun An from 29th to 19th, Daniel Berger from 61st to 39th, Brendan Steele from 49th to 36th and Tommy Fleetwood from 130th to 62nd.
Here’s how the standings look heading into this week's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
THIS WEEK LAST WEEK PLAYER 1. 1. Justin Thomas 2. 12. Sungjae Im 3. 2. Rory McIlroy 4. 3. Webb Simpson 5. 4. Brendon Todd 6. 5. Patrick Reed 7. 6. Lanto Griffin 8. 7. Sebastian Munoz 9. 8. Hideki Matsuyama 10. 9. Kevin Na
Impressed by Im.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 2, 2020
"How he works the ball ... "
"How solid he hits it."
"It seems pretty easy for him."
-- Kevin Na pic.twitter.com/tTauah1GSb