Korea’s Sungjae Im may not have left Augusta National with the Green Jacket but he still produced Asia’s best finish at the Masters Tournament with an impressive joint runner-up outing in his debut appearance.
The 22-year-old Im eclipsed countryman KJ Choi’s third place performance in 2004 with some glorious golf for a total of 15-under-par 273 (66-70-68-69). He finished five strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, who earned his maiden Masters victory and 24th PGA Tour title with a tournament record of 20-under-par 268.
The straight-shooting Im, who won The Honda Classic for his first PGA Tour victory in March, started the final round four back of Johnson and got to within one stroke with birdies on Holes 2 and 3 as Johnson bogeyed 4 and 5. However, World No 1 Johnson shifted into a different a gear down the stretch to cruise home to an emotional win ahead of Im and Australia’s Cameron Smith.
“Finishing tied for second is unbelievable, and I’m proud of my game. This is definitely going to be a memorable Masters for me, not only because this is my first appearance, but my initial goal at the start of the week was just to make a cut and get into the weekend,” said a delighted Im, who played in the final Sunday grouping with Johnson and Mexico’s Abarham Ancer.
As a young boy, Im grew up watching the Masters during the wee hours of the morning in Korea. His high finish ensured him a quick return to Augusta National when the tournament returns to its regular slot next April.
The talented Korean, who was the 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, made errors after getting to within one shot of Johnson through five holes where he dropped bogeys on Holes 6 and 7. Im birdied the eighth, 13th and 15th with some gutsy play to ensure his place in Masters folklore.
“My iron accuracy definitely wasn’t up to par as I did play the first two rounds, but I was able to put it in places where I was able to have a good angle of getting close to the hole, so my scrambling was pretty good.
“Leading up to this week, I struggled with my putting a little bit. So I made a change with my putter, and this week, I putted so well, and that’s what made the difference. I also made some nice approach shots, which led to some good saves. So overall, I’m happy with my approach shots and putting in this week,” noted Im.
Im paid tribute to Johnson, whose imperious performance earned him a second career Major title and bettered the previous 72-hole Masters record held by defending champion Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth by two shots.
“Dustin definitely plays at another level. Dustin was long and accurate. Just watching him play, he makes the game look so easy. 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,” said Im, who became the third-youngest player after Spieth and Woods to finish in the top five at the Masters.