KPGA Rookie Chang Hee-min wins inaugural Woori Championship
KPGA rookie Chang Hee-min took a dominant four-stroke victory at the inaugural Woori Financial Group Championship at Ferrum Country Club in Yeoju, Gyeonggi on Sunday, capitalizing on Friday and Saturday to lock in a win.
Chang secured the win with a total score of five-under, 283, making him just one of three competitors to finish under par on a windy weekend at the notoriously difficult Feerum Country Club. Lee Sang-hee and Kim Min-kyu shared second place at one-under, 287, with five golfers hitting par to tie for fourth and all other competitors finishing over par.
After hitting par in the first round to tie for 28th, Chang jumped up to 16th in the second round with two-under, 70, hitting five birdies and three bogeys.
He repeated that score in a particularly rough third round on Saturday, again with five birdies and three bogeys, to jump into first place. The 20-year-old was one of only two golfers to finish below par on Saturday as strong winds in the afternoon added an extra level of difficulty.
Despite only being a stroke ahead at the end of play on Saturday, hitting one-under, 71, on Sunday was enough to secure Chang a comfortable victory as his biggest competitors quickly dropped out of the race.
"I was nervous from the first hole," Chang said after his victory, "but I tried to focus on what I needed to do. I tried to focus on the golf, my caddy and me."
Chang debuted on the KPGA Tour this year and took his first title at the inaugural Woori Financial Group Championship on just his second appearance, having finished tied for 17th at the DB Insurance Promy Open last month.
Chang joins the KPGA having spent his school years living in Britain studying golf and previously played on the lower levels of the European Tour. He also earned a spot on the Korean national team in 2016.
With the win, Chang takes home 260 million won ($200,000) from the total 1.3 billion won prize money.
Chang's closest competition going into the final round came from Kim, who trailed by just one stroke, and Jang Dong-kyu and Hyun Jeong-hyeob, who both trailed by two strokes.
All three golfers struggled on Sunday. Kim hit two-over, 74, in the fourth round to hold on to second place but slipped well out of contention for the top spot. Hyun dropped to tie for 11th after hitting four-over, 76, while Jang fell even further out of contention with an eight-over, 80, to fall down to tie for 29th.
Other tournament favorites were nowhere to be seen.
Im Sung-jae, the highest ranked Korean golfer at No. 20 in the world, had flown back to Korea specifically to take part in the Woori Financial Group Championship, the first time in two years and seven months he’s joined a KPGA event.
However, the Tour announced on Thursday morning that Im had tested positive for Covid-19 and would have to withdraw from the event. He was scheduled to start the first round at 11:30 a.m., but tested positive before teeing off.
Im’s Covid-19 confirmation will likely also disrupt his PGA season. Following the completion of the Woori Financial Group Championship, Im was scheduled to immediately fly back to the United States to rejoin the PGA Tour for the PGA Championship starting May 20, although that he’ll actually be fit to fly now seems unlikely.
But although he didn't get to compete, Im's abortive appearance at the Woori Championship did end up helping Chang claim his first victory.
"I talked a lot with Im during the practice round," Chang said. "Even after the third round was finished he called me and said: 'Be calm and focus on winning from the start.' I think that energy really helped me win the championship."
Two of this season's KPGA champions, Kim Bio and Park Sang-hyun, were considered serious contenders going into the event, but failed to make an impact after struggling over the first few rounds.
After hitting three-over, 75, in the first round, Park was able to fight his way back up the rankings with strong performances on Friday and Sunday to finish in fourth place at par. Kim failed to make the cut on Friday, finishing tied for 99th at six-over, 150, over the first two rounds.
Former major league baseball pitcher Park Chan-ho also failed to make the cut on Friday, finishing in last place with 33-over, 177, over the first two rounds.
The KPGA returns next week for the 12th edition of the Descente Korea Munsingwear Matchplay at DeBeach Golf Club in Geoje Island, South Gyeongsang starting Thursday.
BY JIM BULLEY [firstname.lastname@example.org]