Eight of Asia’s most talented golfers, led by Korea’s rising star Sungjae Im, have qualified for the FedExCup Playoffs, earning a shot at winning the PGA TOUR’s biggest prize which comes with a bumper US$15 million bonus payday.
The 21-year-old Im, who won the money list on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, enters this week’s THE NORTHERN TRUST at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey as the highest ranked Asian in 23rd position on the FedExCup points list following his seventh top-10 of the season at the Wyndham Championship which concluded on Sunday.
Four other Koreans - Sung Kang, Si Woo Kim, Byeong Hun An and KH Lee - have also made their way into the three-leg FedExCup Playoffs, dubbed “Ultimate August”, by virtue of being in the top-125 of the points list.
Kang, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson in May for his maiden PGA TOUR title, starts the week in 29th position, followed by Kim in 45th place after he finished fifth at the Wyndham Championship which ended a run of poor form in which he missed nine cuts in his last 10 starts.
An, 27, will enter the Playoffs in solid form as well after finishing third on Sunday where he challenged for his first PGA TOUR win. His third top-10 of the season moved him up from 82nd to 57th position on the points list while Lee will start the FedExCup Playoffs in 104th position.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama will begin the week in 30th place while Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, victorious at the RBC Heritage in April, is four rungs below, followed by Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who will start the Playoffs in 76th position in what is his first full year on the PGA TOUR.
The top-70 after THE NORTHERN TRUST will qualify for next week’s BMW Championship before the top-30 make it to the Playoffs finale, the TOUR Championship, where the winner will bag US$15 million.
Making his 32nd start of the season, Im has proven himself on the game’s biggest stage where he has also become part of the conversation to make the International Team for the Presidents Cup against the United States in Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Australia in December.
International Team Captain’s assistant Mike Weir played the opening two rounds with Im last week and was thoroughly impressed by the young Korean. “I love his game,” Weir said. “It was great to get paired with him. We have an eye on him for the Presidents Cup; Ernie (Els) and I were texting about it for 10 minutes, back and forth. What’d you think? And all that stuff.
“He’s got all the talent in the world, hits all the shots,” Weir added. “He chips well, he putts great. He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s trending in the right direction, and I’m sure that’s what Ernie wants is guys that are playing well. He’s not one of the bombers, but he’s in the mid to upper range like Rickie Fowler. He still hits it plenty far. He’s got a really mature head, has a good guy on the bag. I’ve had my eye on him for quite a bit.”
An, a former U.S. Amateur champion, was disappointed to finish third in his chase for a first PGA TOUR win where he led or co-led on all three days before being overtaken by winner J.T. Poston who shot a closing 62.
“Yeah, it was disappointing, especially the last couple holes,” said An, who is playing in his third full season on the PGA TOUR where he finished 42nd in the final FedExCup standings last year.
“Finishing third is like the best finish here, so a lot of positives taken from this week. The Playoffs, the points could triple, so that's where my focus needs to be right now and just trying to forget about what I've done this week and keep this good - well, semi solid ball-striking this week. So need to take the positives from this week and take it into the Playoffs.”
Amongst those who failed the make the top-125 included India’s Anirban Lahiri (178th) and Korean duo Whee Kim (190th) and Sangmoon Bae (205th).