Ten years after watching one of his golf idols K.J. Choi make history at The Players Championship, Korea’s Sungjae Im put himself in prime position to emulate the feat in the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament, even as India’s Anirban Lahiri crashed out.
With this, Lahiri has now failed to progress beyond the second round in four of the five starts at this PGA Tour event. He carded 78 on first day and 72 in the second round, and the total of 150 was not enough for him to make the cut.
As a 13-year-old, Im watched replays of Choi’s momentous triumph in 2011 at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, which helped sparked his American dream. On Friday, Im charged into contention with a solid 6-under 66 in the second round, highlighted by a career-first six consecutive birdies.
He trails leader Lee Westwood by three strokes in tied fifth place after the veteran Englishman also carded a fine 66 for a 9-under 135 two-day total. He leads the $15 million showpiece by a single shot from countryman Matt Fitzpatrick.
Im, who started his day from the 10th, was flawless early on with a birdie on 11. A nine-foot conversion on 15 sparked his six-hole birdie run which included putts of 18 feet, 16 feet and nine feet on Nos. 17, 18 and 1, respectively. The Korean talent wobbled briefly with bogeys on the fifth and seventh after finding greenside bunkers, but bounced back with a closing birdie on the par-5 ninth hole.
Choi, now 50, blazed a trail for Korean and Asian golf by becoming the first golfer from his country to get onto the PGA TOUR in 2000 and subsequently won eight PGA TOUR victories, highlighted by his PLAYERS triumph, which made him the first Asian winner of the prestigious event which assembles the strongest field in golf annually.
His success paved the way for other aspiring Koreans to join him in the U.S., which has subsequently seen the rise of Im and Si Woo Kim, who won The Players in 2017 as a 21-year-old. Kim shot a second round 70 for T22 position on 2-under.
Im, winner of The Honda Classic last season, missed the halfway cut with rounds of 73 and 71 in his debut two years ago, which still featured a hole-in-one on the par-3 13th hole. He opened with a 69 last year before the tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Another Korean, K.H. Lee, made four birdies, one double bogey and one bogey for a 71 for T37 position but the other Asians will have an abbreviated week at TPC Sawgrass. Hideki Matsuyama of Japan carded a 69 for a 145 total to sit one outside the projected halfway cut mark while Lahiri shot a 72 for 150.
Debutant Xinjun Zhang of China shot a second successive 76 to lie on 152 alongside Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan who returned a 74. Korea’s Sung Kang (81) and Byeong Hun An (79) will also miss the weekend play. The halfway cut is currently at even par 144 with eight players to complete their rounds on Friday morning.