South Korea’s Si Woo Kim played the final round of THE PLAYERS Championship like the veteran that he is.
Yet in only his second PLAYERS Championship, Kim, who began the final round trailing the leaders by two shots, took the lead late on the front nine at TPC Sawgrass and then methodically worked his way around the back nine on one of the most-famous golf courses in the world, making par after par after par. Nobody could catch Kim, and the fourth-year PGA TOUR pro cruised to his second career win, a three-shot triumph over England’s Ian Poulter and 54-hole co-leader Louis Oosthuizen.
At just 21 years old, Kim became the youngest PLAYERS champion in history.
With the victory comes a payday of US$1,890,000, a career-high payday, as well as a five-year PGA TOUR exemption. He joins K.J. Choi (2011) as the only Koreans to have won the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament.
Kim, a native of Seoul, qualified for the PGA TOUR in 2013 as a 17-year-old and had to defer his membership until he turned 18. Once the calendar turned, Kim missed six consecutive cuts and had to go to the Web.com Tour, where he made 44 starts between 2014 and 2015. After winning once and finishing 10th on the money list in 2015, Kim moved to the PGA TOUR.
A year ago, Kim broke through, winning the Wyndham Championship, becoming the eighth Korean-born player to win on the PGA TOUR. Kim finished 17th on the FedExCup a season ago, pocketing US $3,086,369.
This season has been a different story for Kim. In 18 previous starts, Kim’s best finish was a tie for 10th in Malaysia at the CIMB Classic in October 2016. He’s also missed seven cuts and showed no indication what would come as he played his four rounds at TPC Sawgrass. In his previous four TOUR appearances prior to THE PLAYERS, Kim withdrew from the Shell Houston Open, missed the cut at the Masters Tournament, tied for 22nd at the Valero Texas Open and then missed the cut in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event.
“I still cannot believe I’m the champion, and as the youngest champion for this championship, I’m very honoured to win,” said Kim, who began the tournament No. 74 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He also improved from 111th in the FedExCup standings to No. 21. “Usually, I’m very nervous, but last year I won a tournament, and that gave me the two-year exemption. Because of that, I could hit aggressively and wasn’t that nervous.”
Kim made a birdie on his opening hole, serving notice that the leaders would have to contend with him. He also birdied No. 7 and No. 9. While Kim didn’t do anything spectacular on his final nine holes of the tournament, he minimised his mistakes and kept his closest pursuers at arm’s length.
Standing on the 18th tee, Kim held a three-shot advantage over Oosthuizen. Logically, all he had to do was keep his drive on the fairway and out of the water on the left and the trees on the right and he would win the tournament. Kim piped his drive down the middle of the fairway on the par-4 closing hole and then left his approach in front of the green. He deftly chipped to tap-in range and calmly made his ninth consecutive par followed by an understated celebration.
“I didn’t expect this because I hadn’t played that well from the beginning of the year,” said Kim. “To become the champion of this tournament, I still feel like I’m dreaming.”
It was another close call for Oosthuizen. Besides his PLAYERS Championship second-place showing, the South African has runner-up finishes in the 2012 Masters Tournament (lost in a playoff) and at the 2015 Open Championship, six second-place TOUR showings overall. Sunday, Oosthuizen shot his second consecutive 1-over 73, a double-bogey at No. 4 and a bogey on No. 9 ultimately proving to be his undoing. Even when Oosthuizen eagled the par-5 11th hole, giving him momentary hope, he couldn’t capture any momentum, bogeying Nos. 13 and 14, ending any ideas he still harbored of winning for the first time in the United States.
“All in all, a good week. I would have liked to have pushed a little bit more at the end there,” assessed Oosthuizen after his round. “Being four behind with four holes to go is probably not ideal. Stupid bogeys on 13 and 14. But I had a good week, I played nicely, I wasn’t spot-on today but happy with a second.
“Si Woo did great today. Whenever he was in trouble, he got up and down with great play, both ball striking and he just outplayed everyone today,” Oosthuizen continued. “He didn’t really have to do a lot at the end there, just needed to stay in play and make pars. That’s what this golf course can do to you. You can get ahead a few shots and the way the weather was today, the way it was so windy, it’s tough to make birdies at the end there.”
Kim joins Spain’s Sergio Garcia as the second international player to win two PGA TOUR titles before age 22. Kim is also in select company, becoming only the second player in the modern PGA TOUR era (after 1916) to win two tournaments by three or more shots before the age of 22. Tiger Woods is the other.
Tying for fourth was Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and 54-hole co-leader Kyle Stanley. Bello thrilled the crowd with the first double eagle at No. 16 in tournament history, and he followed that with a birdie at No. 17, allowing him to make a big jump up the leaderboard. Meanwhile Stanley had a bit of magic of his own—making his fourth consecutive birdie at the par-3 17th. The only other player to do that is Paul Azinger, in 1987.
Defending champion Jason Day tied for 60th with 2015 PLAYERS Champion Rickie Fowler. Adam Scott was the highest finisher among the Australian contingent, finishing T6 at -5.
(Story via PGA Tour)