Kim becomes youngest winner of The Players
Si Woo Kim from South Korea played the final round of The Players’ Championship like he was a veteran.
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 in Florida.
He 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 professional cruised to his second career win, a three-shot triumph over England’s Ian Poulter and 54-hole co-leader Louis Oosthuizen who shared second.
Kim was only 21 years old, making him the youngest winner of the tournament. The previous youngest had been Australian, Adam Scott who was 23 when he won in 2004.
With the victory came a payday of $US1.89 million, 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 event.
Kim, from Seoul, qualified for the PGA Tour in 2013 as a 17-year-old but had to defer his membership until he turned 18 in June of that year.
Once the calendar turned, Kim missed six consecutive cuts and had to go to the second-tier 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 up to the PGA Tour, and he’s been at home ever since.
A year ago, Kim broke through on the PGA Tour, winning the Wyndham Championship, becoming the eighth Korean-born player to win on the tour. Kim finished 17th on the FedExCup a season ago, pocketing $US3,086,369.
This season has been a different story for Kim, but not in a positive way. In 18 starts before his visit to north Florida for The Players, 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 appearances prior to The Players, Kim withdrew from the Shell Houston Open, missed the cut at the US Masters, tied for 22nd in the 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 world golf rankings.
“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.”
And if he was nervous, it didn’t appear like it. He made a birdie on the opening hole on the final day, 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 four 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,” Kim said.
“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 US Masters (lost in a playoff) and at the 2015 Open Championship and six second-place PGA Tour showings overall.
On the final day of The Players Championship, Oosthuizen shot his second consecutive one-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 five 11th hole, giving him momentary hope, he couldn’t capture any momentum, bogeying Nos 13 and 14, ending any ideas he still harboured of winning for the first time in the United States.
“All in all, a good week,” Oosthuisen said.
“I would have liked to have pushed a little bit more at the end there.
“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.
“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.