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(2nd LD) S. Korean Im Sung-jae captures 1st PGA Tour title

All News 09:42 March 02, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS comments throughout, photo)

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- After 50 starts on the PGA Tour, South Korea's Im Sung-jae can finally call himself a champion.

Im won the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Sunday (local time), with a four-round total of six-under 274. He shot a four-under 66 in the final round to hold off Canadian Mackenzie Hughes by one stroke.

Im, the 2018-2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, is the seventh South Korean to find the winner's circle on the tour.

In this EPA photo, Im Sung-jae of South Korea holds the champion's trophy after winning the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on March 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

Im picked up US$1.26 million for his win; he'd made just under $2 million in 12 tournaments this season prior to the Honda Classic.

This was Im's 50th career start. Since the start of the 2018-2019 season, no PGA Tour player has played more tournaments or more rounds than the tireless South Korean.

Im climbed to second place on the FedEx Cup standings with 1,268 points, behind only Justin Thomas (1,403). The top 125 after the end of the regular season in early August will qualify for the lucrative playoffs.

Im had seven top-10s last season and three more this season before his breakthrough.

"Even after winning Rookie of the Year and having a few chances to win, I really wanted to get that win," Im said through an interpreter. "Had a few good chances that slipped away, but I'm also still very grateful that I could win at such a young age, and to have it happen as fast as it did, I'm very happy and satisfied."

The 21-year-old entered the final round in a tie for fifth place, trailing the overnight leader, Tommy Fleetwood of England, by three strokes.

In this Getty Images photo, Im Sung-jae of South Korea tees off at the seventh hole during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on March 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

But Im threw down the gauntlet as he birdied four of the first five holes. After some hiccups with consecutive bogeys at the 12th and 13th, Im closed out strong with birdies at two of the final four holes to cap off his victory.

Im successfully navigated the "Bear Trap," a treacherous three-hole stretch from the 15th to 17th at the PGA National. At the par-3 15th, Im stuck his tee shot to about seven feet and made the putt for a birdie. He saved par despite putting his tee shot in a bunker at the par-4 16th. Another fine tee shot at the par-3 17th set up a birdie that put Im in the lead for good at six-under.

Im said surviving the difficult set of holes toward the finish was the key to his victory.

"The 15 and 17 have given me a little bit of trouble this week; especially on 15 -- I missed it a little bit on the left side," Im said. "And today I felt good with the club and the wind and felt like I was going to take more of an aggressive approach. Just happy with the result."

Im needed to get up and down from a greenside bunker at the 18th to save par and take the clubhouse lead at six-under, and he said he was confident he could pull it off under pressure.

"I've been good out of the bunkers all week. I really like the bunkers around here, and once I got up and saw my ball and saw that it was a good lie, I knew that it was just an ordinary, everyday bunker shot," he said. "I went up there and I was pretty confident with it, and glad that the ball came out the way it did."

In this EPA photo, Im Sung-jae of South Korea reacts after making a putt during the final round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on March 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

Moments after Im finished, Fleetwood was making one last run. The Englishman drained a 25-footer to birdie the 17th and move to five-under, with a chance to pull even at the par-5 18th.

But his second shot on the finishing hole went right and dropped into the water. Fleetwood settled for a bogey there, allowing Im to celebrate after watching the play unfold on a monitor in the clubhouse.

The six Korean champions prior to Im are: Choi Kyoung-ju (eight career titles), Yang Yong-eun (two), Bae Sang-moon (two), Kim Si-woo (two), Noh Seung-yul (one) and Kang Sung-hoon (one). From this group, Yang, the 2009 PGA Championship winner, is the only one with a major title.


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