Im Sung-jae looks to repeat 2020 success at Honda Classic
Im Sung-jae is confident he can pick up his second win at The Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida this weekend as he looks to emulate his first ever PGA Tour victory at the same tournament back in 2020.
Im has reason to be confident. As well as winning the tournament in 2020 and finishing tied for eighth last year, Im maintains the lowest scoring average over at least 10 rounds of any professional golfer at Champion Course in Palm Beach Gardens. Im's average is 69.25, just edging out Tiger Woods in second place at 69.27.
Im returns to the course almost exactly two years after he picked up his first PGA Tour win there on March 1, 2020. With a four-round total of six under par, 274, Im finished one shot ahead of runner-up Mackenzie Hughes of Canada to take the 2020 title. Last year, Im walked away with a strong eighth-place finish at five under par, 275.
“I earned my first win here at PGA National," Im said ahead of the tournament. "I think I can have another great week and I’ll be trying to focus on each shot. If can play my best, I will be able to find myself up on the leaderboard."
Im enters The Honda Classic at fifth place on the FedEx Cup ranking with four top 10 finishes already this season. He has already picked up one win this season, taking the trophy at the Shriners Children's Open in October last year.
Returning to Champion Course is especially exciting for Im, who prefers a challenge. The course in Florida is known as one of the hardest courses on the PGA Tour, with holes Nos. 15 to 17 collectively known as the "Bear Trap" and ranked as the fourth-hardest run of holes on any Tour course over the past decade.
“The course is tougher than two years ago so I need to focus on that," Im said. "Honestly, I shine more on tough courses. Golf courses in Florida have hard greens and they are fast. My shots trajectory are high which creates more spin so they roll less and allows me to create more chances with my second shots.
“When I won here, I was able to overcome the Bear Trap and made two birdies during the final round. That’s the most memorable thing that I remember and it gave me the momentum to win. Overcoming the Bear Trap was special. My game feels good. I changed my backswing slightly from last July and I think that effect is helping me. It fits my very well. I’ve kept my arm and body together as one movement, turning together. I think that change is giving me more consistency.”
Im has often spoken of his love for the PGA Tour's Florida swing, which The Honda Classic is part of. Fittingly, Im was the second Korean to win the Honda Classic, following in the footsteps of Yang Yong-eun, better known as Y.E. Yang, in 2009. Both Im and Yang are from Jeju off the southern coast of Korea, an area well known for its strong winds, perhaps explaining why they've both done so well at the famously windy PGA National.
Im will tee off at 12:29 p.m. on the first hole on Thursday alongside Lucas Herbert of Australia and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa. Fellow Koreans Lee Kyoung-hoon and Sung Kang will also compete at the Honda Classic. Lee will tee off on the 10th hole at 12:18 p.m. and Kang will tee off on the first hole at 8:07 a.m.
BY JIM BULLEY [email@example.com]