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(LEAD) 2 S. Koreans chasing season-ending jackpot on PGA Tour

All News 22:39 August 24, 2022

(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 5-8, 14-15)
By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- With the 2021-2022 PGA Tour season winding down this week in Atlanta, two South Korean players will be going after a cool US$18 million jackpot in the Peach State.

Im Sung-jae and Lee Kyoung-hoon will be part of the 30-player field at the season-ending Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at the par-70 East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

In this Associated Press photo, Lee Kyoung-hoon of South Korea watches his shot from the 18th fairway during the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

To qualify for this exclusive event, players had to rank inside the top 30 in the FedEx Cup points standings at the conclusion of the BMW Championship last week in Wilmington, Delaware.

Im had been in 11th place heading into that tournament and ended up in 10th, safely in for his fourth consecutive trip to the Tour Championship. He has now tied Choi Kyoung-ju for the most Tour Championship appearances by a South Korean player under the current playoff format, which was put in place in 2007. Choi qualified for the Tour Championship in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011.

After missing consecutive cuts at the U.S. Open and then the Scottish Open in June and July, respectively, Im has regained his typically steady form over the past four tournaments. The well-known workhorse has reeled off four straight top-15 finishes and has shot par or better in his past 16 consecutive rounds. He is 46-under in that stretch.

"My putting stroke was a bit off earlier in the summer, but as soon as I returned to the U.S. (after the Scottish Open and the Open Championship), I worked on putting," Im said in an online press conference with the South Korean media Wednesday from Atlanta. "That work has paid dividends."

Im, who lives in Atlanta, says he will enjoy home cooking during the week.

"I will be commuting and sleeping in my own bed. And It feels really comfortable," Im said with a smile. "As I was leaving my house this morning, it didn't feel like I was going to a big tournament like this."

Lee, on the other hand, had been on the bubble for the second straight year, and began the BMW Championship ranked 33rd in FedEx Cup points. But thanks to an excellent final round, Lee finished in 26th place and booked his first trip to the Tour Championship. Lee birdied the first four holes en route to a six-under 65 on Sunday, as he finished tied for fifth.

In 2021, Lee ended up No. 31 in the FedEx Cup rankings, leaving Im as the only South Korean at the Tour Championship.

In this Associated Press photo, Lee Kyoung-hoon of South Korea smiles after finishing the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

The FedExCup leaders will begin the Tour Championship with a head start on the rest of the field, under the "starting strokes" system designed to recognize their performance during the regular season and over the first two playoff events.

Scottie Scheffler of the United States, who topped the FedEx Cup standings, will start the tournament at 10-under, while the runner-up from the U.S., Patrick Cantlay, will begin at eight-under.

Those who ranked sixth to 10th, including Im, will be at four-under at the start. The bottom five qualifiers, including Lee, will begin at even par.

Im, who will be six shots off the lead from the start, said though he may have a chance to go for the title, he will have to play flawless golf in all four rounds to make that happen.

"On this course, if you can pick up some birdies early on, you can really go low," he said. "But I am not going to get caught up in trying to catch the leader quickly. I will stick to my game plan and try to stay mistake-free for all four days."

The bonus payout for the winner will be $18 million, and the runner-up will bag $6.5 million. Even the last-place golfer will receive $500,000.

In this Getty Images photo, Im Sung-jae of South Korea plays a shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

No South Korean has won the Tour Championship, and Choi Kyoung-ju holds the mark for the best performance by a South Korean with his third-place showing in 2011.

And that was before the starting strokes system was introduced. This time, both Im and Lee will face a steep climb to catch Scheffler and other FedEx Cup leaders in the unique scoring method.

After the Tour Championship, the 2022-2023 season will begin with the Fortinet Championship in Napa, California, on Sept. 15.

In this Associated Press photo, Im Sung-jae of South Korea tees off on the third hole during the final round of the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, on Aug. 21, 2022. (Yonhap)

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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