Kim Min-kyu wins Korea Open after grueling playoff

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Kim Min-kyu wins Korea Open after grueling playoff

Kim Min-kyu tees off on the first hole during the final round of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Chungcheong on Sunday. [KOLON KOREA OPEN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE]

Kim Min-kyu tees off on the first hole during the final round of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Chungcheong on Sunday. [KOLON KOREA OPEN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE]

Cho Min-gyu tees off on the first hole during the final round of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Chungcheong on Sunday. [KOLON KOREA OPEN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE]

Cho Min-gyu tees off on the first hole during the final round of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Chungcheong on Sunday. [KOLON KOREA OPEN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE]

 
Kim Min-kyu won the national title at the 64th edition of the Kolon Korea Open Golf Championship at Woo Jeong Hills Country Club in Cheonan, South Chungcheong on Sunday.
 
The national title was won only after a fierce competition at the top of the leaderboard.
 
Even going into the final round, the top of the leaderboard was closely packed with two tied for first, four tied for second and four tied for third.  
 
Cho Min-gyu and Ok Tae-hoon went into the final round of the Korea open tied in first place with five-under-par, while Sari Suwannarut of Thailand, Lee Jun-seok of Australia, Lee Jung-hwan and Lee Hyung-joon were two strokes behind, tied for third place. Four golfers including Kim were then tied for fourth place.  
 
With two groups following behind, Kim headed into his second-to-last hole tied in first place with Lee Hyung-joon at five-under-par, but the pressure seemed to have caught up with Kim, who was looking for his first-ever title at the event. Kim's driver shot veered left and out of the 18th hole course and near the 17th hole course. 
 
While trying to hit out of the deep rough, his ball hit a tree and landed short. Kim was only able to hit his ball back onto the 18th hole course by his fourth shot, leaving him with a bogey on the par-5 18th to finish with a four-under-par.  
 
Lee Hyung-joon followed in the next group and made a similar mistake, as his driver shot veered far right, also missing the fairway and was out of bounds, forcing him to tee off again. His second tee shot counted as his third shot. Lee Hyung-joon missed his bogey putt and fell out of contention, double bogeying the hole.  
 
In the last group, Cho and Ok's driver shots also missed the fairway, Cho's shot landed in the deep rough left of the course, while Ok had to tee off again as his first driver shot was out of bounds. Ok double bogeyed the hole.  
 
Last season, when Lee Jun-seok won the title, tee shots on the last hole were a deciding factor for the Korea Open. After a fierce three-man competition between Lee Jun-seok, Park Eun-shin and Kim Joo-hyung, Kim Joo-hyung crashed out of the contention for the trophy after a tee shot blunder on the last hole.  
 
This year, Cho came to the green last and it was down to whether Cho would be able to sink his birdie putt to overcome Kim's four-under-par lead, but Cho narrowly missed his birdie to par the hole and pushed the match into a three-hole aggregate playoff. 
 
As a national title event, ties are decided via a three-hole aggregate playoff, meaning tied players play three additional holes and the player with the lowest score wins the title. If players are still tied after the aggregate holes, the event moves to a sudden death playoff. 
 
Twenty-one-year-old Kim and 31-year-old Cho headed back to the 16th hole, both vying for their first career titles.
 
Cho's tee shot landed on the green on the par-3 16th while Kim's ball landed on the apron next to the green. Kim and Cho were playing at the top of their game, both narrowly missing out on birdies and carding pars.
 
On the next par-4 17th, Cho made it on the green while Kim missed, then his short iron shot also landed short giving Cho a chance to get ahead. Cho bogeyed the hole while Kim parred. 
 
The pair once again headed to the notorious 18th hole. Cho's tee shot veered left while Kim's shot veered right. Both missed the green and while Cho missed his par putt, Kim slotted in his birdie putt to win the national title. 
 
"To be honest, this is unreal," Kim said. "I was tense but the results were really good. I feel amazing."
 
The Kolon Korea Open had been held annually since 1958. The 2020 edition was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though 2019 champion Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand sits out the tournament this year, 2018 champion Choi Min-chel and 2017 champion Chang Yi-keun were both looking to repeat their past success.  
 
The top two of the Korean Open are eligible to compete in The Open Championship, also known as the British Open, the oldest and one of the most prestigious golf tournaments.
 
However, Lee Jun-seok, winner of the 2021 Korea Open, was not eligible to play at the 2021 Open Championship because the Open had to forgo the 2020 edition due to Covid-19 and had decided to give the players who were eligible in 2020 a chance to compete in 2021.
 
This year, both Cho and Kim will be able to compete in the 150th edition of The Open Championship that is scheduled to run from July 14 to July 17 as the top two finishers of the Korea Open. 
 
"It is my honor to be part of The Open, especially because it is the 150th edition," said Kim. "I feel really proud and I will do my best." 

BY YUN SO-HYANG [yun.sohyang@joongang.co.kr]
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