Sunday, September 24, 2023

Korea’s Sungjae Im was overwhelmed but unbowed by Augusta National on Sunday as he settled for a second top-10 finish in three starts at the Masters Tournament.

A cold putter proved to be a bane for the 24-year-old in his chase for major glory as he signed for a disappointing 3-over 75, finishing nine back of winner Scottie Scheffler. The in-form American carded a final round 71 to earn his first major title and fourth win on the PGA TOUR a stunning six-tournament run.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama closed with a 72 to finish equal 14th, which was a commendable effort considering he was battling a back injury for a month leading up to the Masters.

After missing birdie attempts on his first three holes, Im dropped the first of six bogeys at the par 3 fourth hole, and it was subsequently uphill for the two-time PGA TOUR winner, who was runner-up in his Masters debut in 2020.

“It was a little bit disappointing. I missed a lot of putts,” rued Im, who averaged 1.83 putts per green in regulation, his highest of the week. “Overall, I think top-10 is good, and I am happy especially when I didn’t play well.”

The top-10 guaranteed a quick return to the year’s first major which Im intends to keep knocking on the door as he feels Augusta National is a suited to his precision game. “It is good to secure an invitation early,” said Im, who was the first round leader following a 67.

“I will keep the same strategy … play for the cut, and then try to compete for a win. The Masters was my dream since I was a kid and watched this on TV. I always hoped to play at Augusta National and compete with the greatest golfers, and competing for the trophy. This is huge.”

Im leaves Augusta National with every belief he has garnered greater knowledge and understanding of the nuances at the challenging layout. “Accuracy is more important than power here. Finding the right side of the green is key. It is very important to place the ball where you can make par. If not, you can easily three putt,” he said.

“I was top of the leaderboard and was able to compete for a win. It was also the first time I played in front of patrons and I enjoyed the atmosphere and roars. It makes the tournament enjoyable and I will never forget this experience.” 

Matsuyama, who made history as Asia’s first Masters winner 12 months ago, traded five birdies against as many bogeys as he held his head high to finish inside the top-15. He later presented the Green Jacket to Scheffler, who defeated Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland by three strokes with his 10-under 278 aggregate.

“I’m happy I was able to play all four days,” said Japan’s first male major champion. “I struggled to play the type of golf that I was envisioning. I wish I was able to contend a little more.”

Scheffler, 25, held off the chasing pack to extend his magical run of form as he became the first player to win four times in a six-tournament run on the PGA TOUR since Jason Day in 2015. The victory cemented his position as No. 1 on the FedExCup standings and Official World Golf Ranking.

Tiger Woods finished 47th in his first start since the 2020 Masters and some 14 months after a horrific car accident which led to serious leg injuries.

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