Si Woo Kim pips Cantlay in grandstand AMEX finish

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Si Woo Kim celebrates his 71st hole birdie (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Si Woo Kim held off an inspired Patrick Cantlay to pip the American to the winning post at the American Express Championship in La Quinta, California.

With Cantlay in the clubhouse after a stunning 11-under par 61 that set the target at 22-under, the gauntlet was laid down to which South Korean Kim duly responded, picking up birdies at two of his closing three holes to capture his third PGA Tour win.

A year after Kim shot a 15-over 87 in the first round and quickly withdrew from this event because of his persistent back problems, he began the final round with a share of the lead atop a crowded board with the burden of expectation keeping him awake on Saturday night.

“Every year I’ve had a chance but I couldn’t make it,” Kim said who closed with an eight-under 64 for a 23-under total. “I had a lot of resolve in my mind last night. I took melatonin, but still I didn’t sleep very well.”

You wouldn’t have known as the 25-year old reached the turn with four birdies and no bogeys before picking up two more shots at 11 and 12. Even going the way he was, with six groups out in front, Kim couldn’t be sure how well he was travelling so his decision to do a bit of leaderboard watching proved to be a wise move as Cantlay roared to the Stadium Course clubhouse in a new course record.

“I had to know what’s going on, so I knew how to play my game in the final round,” Kim admitted. “I knew Cantlay played really well. I tried to keep patient and believe in myself. I got the chance on 16 and 17, and that’s when I could make it. I feel good about myself. I just tried to focus on my game. I didn’t even know I had a bogey-free round today.”

Cantlay’s surge still only put him one stroke in the lead, and Kim comfortably birdied the par-5 16th to pull even. Kim then buried a 19-foot birdie putt on the island green on the 17th to move back in front, joyously pumping his fist when his perfectly paced putt dropped. Kim joined Collin Morikawa as the only PGA Tour players under 26-years old with three career wins.

“I thought I would have a chance at a playoff,” Cantlay said after falling just short of his fourth career victory despite his best career round as a pro. “I played about as good as I can possibly play.”

Meanwhile, after starting the final round in a share of the lead, Tony Finau left feeling encouraged as his 68 saw him leave Coachella Valley still searching for an elusive second PGA Tour title: “A couple of those guys just went really low today,” Finau said. “I had some opportunities, I think, to shoot a number. But man, I’m kind of leaving today pretty encouraged. I played nicely.”

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (66), Michael Thompson (66) and Doug Ghim (69) finished tied for fifth at 15 under.

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