October 10, 2021 - 6:44 pm
Sungjae Im turned an expected Sunday shootout into a runaway victory at the Shriners Children’s Open.
Im played his first 13 holes in 9 under and coasted to a final-round 62, finishing at 24 under as he pulled away from a field of contenders for a four-stroke victory. There were challenges from some early finishers, but their runs were much too little, too late.
“It was very tough to get my first win, but I felt like the second one was harder and harder, but I kept my patience,” said Im, who at 23 adds the Shriners to his maiden win in 2020 at the Honda Classic. “I tried to stay composed throughout the period, and I’m glad it came.”
Matthew Wolff was runner-up for the second consecutive year, shooting 68 to finish at 20 under. Marc Leishman, Rory Sabbatini and third-round leader Andrew Schenk were another shot back in third.
Leishman (63), Sabbatini (64) and Hayden Buckley (63) all went low Sunday, but never enough to threaten Im. The expected challenges from Wolff, Schenk, Sam Burns and others never materialized.
Not that it would have mattered. Im was a birdie machine from the get-go. He made a 30-footer on the opening hole, then added birdies at Nos. 4, 6, 7 and 9 to make the turn in 5 under.
The string continued after the turn, with birdies on 10, 11 and 12, and a tap-in birdie at the 13th made it five in a row and a five-shot lead. He coasted the rest of the way.
“I didn’t even know that I birdied five in a row,” Im said. “I was just constantly focused each and every single hole to get through it without a mistake.”
Wolff had no complaints with his finish and said there was little he could do when somebody gets as hot as Im.
“I was just really happy with how the week turned out. Sungjae played unbelievable the last day,” Wolff said. “When I’m in the lead or contention, someone just seems to go off the last day on me.”
And go off Im did. He had 11 3s on his Sunday scorecard, including on nine of the first 12 holes. And it wasn’t just on Sunday.
For the week, he ranked first in putting, first in strokes gained tee to green and first in scrambling. That’s a combination that will win most any tournament.
“Tee to green, driver, irons, putting game, it worked as I wanted to, and it gave me a good result,” Im said.
Chad Ramey had an up-close view of the performance in the final round.
“He hit it well, and his putter got hot,” Ramey said of playing with Im. “It seemed like if he wasn’t making pitches, it looked like they were going in. It was impressive, and it was fun to watch.”
Im said much of the credit to his performance is a new dedication to conditioning, as well as finally settling into a home in Atlanta rather than traveling from hotel to hotel as he had been his first three years on the tour.
“As I got to my second and third year on tour, I felt the importance of conditioning and keeping myself stronger and healthy, so we’ve been working really hard,” he said.
Sabbatini looked as if he might make a real challenge after making birdie on his first four holes and playing the front nine in 28 to get to 19 under. But his charge ended there.
For Wolff, he now leaves Las Vegas knowing he’s played this event in 43 under over eight rounds and has no trophy to show for it.
“It’s golf,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t get a win, but I really like this place and I really like where my game is.”
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.