Im, Rahm and Cameron Smith. Getty/ PGA and Filepic
Kapalua, Hawaii, Jan 9: Even as Jon Rahm (61) joined Cameron Smith (64) at the top of the leaderboard, Korea’s Sungjae Im sank a monster 46-foot putt for eagle on the last hole en route to an 8-under 65 on Saturday to give himself a fighting chance of winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
The 23-year-old Im produced his career low round at The Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, firing seven other birdies and one bogey in addition to his final-hole heroics where he found the bottom from off the fringe in what is the PGA TOUR’s first tournament of 2022.
The Asian golf star enters the final round in tied fourth place on 20-under 199 but is six strokes behind co-leaders, Cameron Smith (64) and World No. 1 Jon Rahm, who equaled the course record with a magnificent 61.
Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama birdied four of his last six holes for a 68 and 17-under total, which left him in a share of eighth place alongside Justin Thomas, who also shot a 61 earlier in the day.
Searching for his third PGA TOUR win, Im knows he has an uphill fight to catch an in-form Smith and Rahm, who has shown no rust in his game despite featuring in his first tournament in some 10 weeks.
“I am happy with last few holes and to get a low score today. I struggled early on but kept my focus by being patient and I then had some great putts at the end,” said Im, who also rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on 17.
“Definitely the eagle on the 18th hole will help me to keep the momentum till tomorrow. I will try to keep this going and focus on my game.”
The ultra-talented Korean is dreaming of pulling off another come-from-behind victory as his triumph at the Shriners Children’s Open in Vegas last October saw him win from three shots back going into the final day. He closed with a 62 then to win by four and with The Plantation Course yielding low scores all week, Im is not giving up hope of chasing down the leaders.
Matsuyama, who played alongside his Presidents Cup International teammate Im, was slow out of the blocks with only one birdie through 12 holes before hitting birdies on Hole Nos. 13, 14, 16 and 17. “It didn’t go my way today, but hopefully I can play better tomorrow and turn it around,” said the seven-time PGA TOUR winner.
Joint leaders Rahm, Smith set 54-hole total record at 26-under
At 26-under, Smith and Rahm turned in the second-lowest opening 54-hole score to par in PGA TOUR history (Patrick Reed with 27-under in the 2014 The American Express). However, Smith and Rahm set the Sentry Tournament of Champions 54-hole record at 26-under 193, beating by one the record held by Ernie Els from 2003.
Rahm and two-time Sentry Tournament of Champions winner Justin Thomas set the tournament record with matching 12-under 61.
Rahm is a six-time PGA TOUR winner with the last win having been the 2021 US Open.
Third-Round Leader board
Cameron Smith 65-64-64 – 193 (-26)
Jon Rahm 66-66-61 – 193 (-26)
Daniel Berger 66-66-66 – 198 (-21)