S. Korean Im Sung-jae sets PGA Tour birdie record in season opener

January 8, 2024

South Korean Im Sung-jae has set a PGA Tour record for the most birdies in a 72-hole tournament with 34 at the season-opening event in Hawaii.

Im made 11 birdies in the final round of The Sentry at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Kapalua, Hawaii, on Sunday (local time). Im, who had his lone bogey of the day at the fourth hole, carded a 63 for the final round and 25-under 267 for the tournament.

The 34 birdies are the most at a 72-hole PGA Tour event on record. Im had nine birdies in the opening round, followed by eight in the second round and six in the third.

The previous record had been 32 birdies — shared by Jon Rahm (2023), Paul Gow (2001) and Mark Calcavecchia (2001).

Im broke the record with a two-putt birdie from about 38 feet on the par-5 15th hole and then picked up his 34th birdie on the final hole, also a par-5.

The record birdie total wasn’t enough for Im to grab his third career PGA Tour title, as he tied for fifth place, four strokes behind the champion, Chris Kirk of the United States.

Im began the tournament with 65-66 in the first two rounds to put himself in a tie for second place. However, Im only managed an even par 73 in the third round to drop out of contention, with his six birdies negated by four bogeys and one double bogey.

Im was shot out of a cannon to start the final round, as he birdied the first three holes. After a hiccup with the bogey at the fourth hole, Im collected birdies at the seventh, ninth and 10th holes.

Then he had birdies on four straight holes, starting at the 12th, and the closing birdie at the 18th capped his record-breaking day.

“It feels great to have posted a good score in the first tournament,” Im said afterward. “I tried to take care of my body really well over the winter in Korea, and I think my hard work paid dividends from the first event of the new year.”

Im lamented some “needless mistakes” in the third round that cost him a chance to contend for the title.

“It was quite windy yesterday, and I put myself in a position where I made bogeys that I shouldn’t have,” Im said. “I should have been more cautious in windy conditions but I tried to do too much and I was overaggressive. I couldn’t get my distances right and made a couple of errors with my short game.”

Im’s aggressive mindset, however, rewarded him with 11 birdies in the final round.

“I had four straight birdies on the back nine because I had proper distances, and I tried to keep it going,” Im said. “Even after those four birdies in a row, I tried to go for birdies on every remaining hole.”

Im also owns the PGA Tour’s single-season record with 498 birdies from the 2020-2021 season, which topped the previous record of 493 set by Steve Flesch in 2000.

Im, the 2018-2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, led the tour in birdies in each of his first three seasons. As a rookie, Im poured in 480 birdies, 83 more than his closest pursuer, Adam Schenk.

Im was one of four South Koreans at The Sentry, which featured a 59-player field comprising PGA Tour winners from last year and the top-50 finishers in the FedEx Cup standings who didn’t otherwise qualify.

An Byeong-hun was the top South Korean at 26-under, which put him alone in fourth place. He made a strong charge down the stretch with three birdies and an eagle from holes Nos. 13 to 16, before stumbling with a bogey at the 17th.

This was An’s first PGA Tour appearance after serving a three-month suspension for violating the tour’s anti-doping policy. The tour announced its ban of An in October last year, retroactive to Aug. 31, after he tested positive for a banned substance contained in a cough medicine available over the counter in South Korea.

“It was nice. Good start of the year. Made lots of putts today,” An summed up his week. “My ball striking wasn’t as sharp as I wanted, but I made some good birdies coming in to finish fourth. Wish it would have been better, but I did my best. It is what it is.”

As for his takeaways that he will apply to the rest of the season, An said he will have to have more faith in his game.

“I hit a lot of good shots, but just got to trust myself a little bit more. Some of the shots still felt a little baffled out there, and I didn’t trust my game,” he said. “But I think my game’s in good shape and, hopefully, I can trust a little more next week.”

Kim Si-woo shot 20-under 272 to tie for 25th. Tom Kim tied for 45th at 14-under 278, after a 66 in the final round, his lowest score in four days in Maui.