February 24: Korea’s rising star Sungjae Im hopes to become only the second Asian golfer to win a World Golf Championships tournament when he lines up alongside the stars of the game at the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession starting on Thursday.
Fresh from a two-week break, the 22-year-old will carry the region’s challenge in the elite 73-man field featuring 48 of the top 50 golfers from the Official World Golf Ranking gathered at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Florida.
Defending champion Patrick Reed, reigning FedExCup winner and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thoma, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka are amongst the big guns who will be aiming for success in the US$10.5 million showpiece, which is the first WGC event of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR Season following the cancellation of the WGC-HSBC Champions last October.
Since the launch of the World Golf Championships in 1999, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama remains as the lone Asian golfer to have won following triumphs at the 2016 WGC-HSBC Champions and 2017 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Im, the highest ranked Asian player in the world at 17thplace, hopes to join his Presidents Cup International teammate on the roll of honour.
“The WGC are big events. It would be nice to become the second Asian winner at a WGC following Hideki but I think I need a big effort to do so. I hope to get good results every year in WGC tournaments,” said Im.
So far, he has featured in three WGC events in his blossoming career, with a tie for 11th place at the WGC-HSBC Champions in 2019 being his best result. After starting 2021 with five straight tournaments which yielded one top five finish and two other top-20s, the Korean, who is nicknamed “Ironman” due to his non-stop playing schedule, believes his form is peaking nicely to potentially challenge for a second PGA TOUR victory. With no halfway cut this week, Im plans to switch to attack mode from the get-go.
“You probably need to be a little more aggressive,” said Im, who broke through for his first PGA TOUR win at The Honda Classic last March. “I think I will change strategies. If you play well in the first round, you can decide to either play it safe or aggressively. At the WGC, I feel really comfortable because there is no halfway cut, so I think this can help me play better.”
He is also excited to go head-to-head with leading players from the other international tours this week. On Tuesday, Im played a practice round with upcoming Korean Australian golfer, Minwoo Lee at The Concession.
“This is a huge event. The top players from world’s six main tours are here, along with the top-ranked players from the world ranking. I think it’s fun and great to have a chance to compete against other world-class players. I will be focusing hard on every shot and will do my best throughout all four days of the competition,” he said.
This week’s WGC-Workday Championship marks the start of another busy stretch of golf for Im. He will head to the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard next week where he has two top-three finishes over the past two years before teeing up at the TOUR’s flagship tournament, THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass. He will then defend his Honda title and then head to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which is limited to the top 64 golfers in the world.
Other Asians joining Im in this week’s field include Matsuyama, a five-time PGA TOUR winner, and Yuki Inamori, who is a two-time Japan Open champion. The WGC-Workday Championship is a newly named event replacing the WGC-Mexico Championship, which could not be held in Mexico due to logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.