Masters runner-up Im puts scare into Johnson with impressive scrambling week
Two critical first-nine mistakes exposed Sungjae Im’s inexperience Sunday in the final round of the 2020 Masters. Otherwise, he enjoyed a brilliant debut.
Trailing leader Dustin Johnson by one shot on the par-3 sixth tee, Im’s approach flew over the green, leading to a bogey. After a strong drive split the fairway at No. 7, Im’s wedge shot sailed 20 yards past the front hole location into the back bunker, forcing him to scramble for another bogey.
In 20 minutes, the deficit grew to four shots.
Photos: Im's Fourth Masters Round
“On No. 7, it was 108 meters (119 yards), and it was actually the wind was blowing more than I thought,” he said through his interpreter. “So that made it a little difficult for me to be accurate.”
Undaunted, Im avoided bogeys the rest of the way and made birdie on the three remaining par 5s to shoot 69 and tie for second at 15-under.
“This is definitely going to be a memorable Masters for me, not only because this is my first appearance,” the South Korean said. “But my initial goal at the start of the week was just to make the cut and get into the weekend. So to finish tied for second is unbelievable.”
It’s the best finish by a Masters rookie since Jordan Spieth tied for second in 2014.
Im, 22, led the field in par-4 birdie percentage, converting 9 of 40 for 22.5 percent. He was fifth in the field in putts per greens in regulation (1.64).
“Leading up to this week, I struggled with my putting a little bit,” he said. “So I made a change with my putter, and this week, just I putted so well, and that's what made the difference.”
Im, who entered the week ranked 25th in the world, turned pro in 2015 and was the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2018, earning PGA Tour status. Since the beginning of the 2018-19 season, he’s played in 67 tournaments, rarely taking a week off and simply renting a hotel room on the rare occasion when he did. He’s in the process of buying a house at TPC Sugarloaf near Atlanta.
The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Im won the Honda Classic in March for his first victory. He represented the International team in the Presidents Cup in Australia last December and his consistent ball-striking during those matches impressed his more experienced teammates.
His iron game fell below his standard this weekend, but a deft touch enabled him to save pars. Im led the field in strokes gained around the green, ranked sixth in the tournament in scrambling percentage, converting 20 of 27 opportunities, and also birdied 12 of the 16 par 5s, finishing with a tasty up-and-down from 20 yards beyond the 15th green, near the pond.
Entering the day, Im knew overcoming a four-shot deficit and overtaking the world’s best golfer would be a tall task and require a final round in the mid-60s.
“Dustin definitely plays at another level. I've played with him a couple times, and his accuracy off the tee is unbelievable to watch,” Im said. “I really enjoyed playing with him, but I didn't want to think that I was competing with him today. I just wanted to focus on my game and try to finish as strong as I can.”