Day one of this year’s Masters tournament is in the bank and it’s South Korean Sungjae Im who holds a slender one-stroke lead after carding a superb five-under par round of 67 at Augusta National.
Out in the second half of the draw, Im’s patented and imperious ball-striking was in full swing from the off with his first approach shot to the first dialled-in right over the flag to set up an opening birdie.
Two more gains would follow at the second and third holes in a flying start for the 24-year old who rolled in another on the par-4 seventh from 15-feet before reaching the turn in four-under.
By that time the wind was blowing as hard as it had all day in Georgia and even Im wasn’t immune to a couple of stray ones. Bogeys followed at 10 and 11 before a stunning approach to the par-5 13th to around 10-feet saw Im land an eagle and wipe the slate of his two bogeys clear.
Having laid up to the par-5 15th, he cleverly left his wedge shot for his third 15-feet below the hole and that would set up Im’s final birdie of his round, enough to edge out many people’s favourite this week, Cam Smith into second place ahead of day two.
“I think it fits my game,” said Im of Augusta where he finished tied-second on debut here in 2020.
“It requires tee to green good shots overall and to put the shot into spots where I have a chance to attack the green is important, so I think it fits my game, yes.
“But we’re only one day in. I’ve got three more days to play. I just want to keep this momentum going and try to finish well this week.”
When Im finished second in 2020, he did so alongside the Australian Smith who trails him by one stroke after signing for a remarkable round that included eight birdies, but was bookended with double-bogey 6s at the first and 18th.
“You know, to be honest, those couple of double bogeys really didn’t have too bad a shots in them,” Smith said.
“It’s not like I was scratching it out of the trees. Got my second shot into a reasonable spot and just misjudged the wind on both wedges. Yeah, just left myself in a bit of a tough spot. Other than that, it was just really solid.”
The reigning players champion has made no secret of his love of Augusta National through the years and although he arrives very much with a job to do this week, Smith admits that there were times on Thursday that he felt like he was player turned patron, with a certain Tiger Woods, who signed for a 71 despite a 500-day-plus absence, demanding the world’s attention – even Smith’s.
“I actually found myself a couple of times today, because we were waiting so much, just watching,” Smith said.
“I almost felt like a patron out there at some points today. You can’t not watch him; he’s unreal. There was definitely a lot of noise, but yeah, just was really good at just focusing on one shot at a time.”
When Smith and Im shared that runner-up position in November’s Masters unlike any other in 2020, they did so alongside Dustin Johnson, who lurks just one shot back of Smith at three-under par and in a four-way tie for third place alongside World Number One Scottie Scheffler, Joaquin Niemann and another former Masters champ in Danny Willett.
“The game is starting to feel a lot better,” said Johnson. “Getting more and more comfortable over the golf ball and getting more comfortable hitting golf shots. It’s starting to around and, obviously, it’s trending in the right direction. Especially coming into this week, and obviously off to a solid start.”
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