By Tom LaMarre
Sungjae Im of South Korea warmed up for his title defense in the Honda Classic this week by closing with a 6-under-par 66 to tie for 17th in the Players Championship on Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, missing a top-10 finish by one stroke.
Even though he was the PGA Tour’s 2019 Rookie of the Year, the 22-year-old Im did not win on the circuit until he beat Mackenzie Hughes of Canada by one stroke last year on the Champion Course at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“Even after winning Rookie of the Year and having a few chances to win, I really wanted to get that win,” said Im, who also was the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Players of the Year. “I had a few good chances that slipped away, but I’m also still very grateful that I could win at such a young age, and to have it happen as fast as it did, I’m very happy.
“After being so close so many weeks and even after having a bunch of top 10s and just using that experience was big, and just hope to really work hard and move forward and become a winner again very soon.
“I’m just so happy to be on the PGA Tour and just to play golf, I don’t really look at it as work, it’s more of a chance to just go out and do what I love, and play golf.”
The Honda Classic rounds out the Florida Swing, but has the disadvantage of landing on the schedule between the Players Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship next week at Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas.
Because of that, all of the players in the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings are taking the week off, and the highest-ranked player in the Honda field is No. 12 Joaquin Niemann of Chile.
Still, there is a solid field ready to tee it up at PGA National in addition to Im and Niemann, headed by Daniel Berger (pictured), Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, reigning Open champion Shane Lowry of Ireland, Brian Harman, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Danny Willett of England, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Brendan Steele, Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia, Stewart Cink, Jason Dufner, Vijay Singh and Lee Westwood of England, who has finished second in each of the last two weeks in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players.
Unfortunately, 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, Scott Piercy and Doc Redman were forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid-19.
Among the young guns are Talor Gooch, Matthew Wolff, Dylan Frittelli of South Africa, Matthew NeSmith, Henrik Norlander of Sweden, Brandon Wu, J.T. Poston, Sung Kang of South Korea, Aaron Wise, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan, Tyler Duncan, Adam Long, Tom Hoge, Maverick McNealy, Xinjun Zhang of China, Beau Hossler and Wyndham Clark.
“We have a very deep field,” Honda Classic Executive Director Ken Kennerly said. Tuesday. “A lot of the best players want to play here because the course is so tough. That’s why Lee Westwood plays here every year.”
They’re all looking forward to testing the famed and sometimes dreaded “Bear Trap,” holes 15-17 on the Champion Course at PGA National, which the winner must navigate successfully—especially on Sunday.
- Daniel Berger, United States – Coming off a tie for ninth in the Players, his fourth top-10 finish of the season, including his fourth PGA Tour victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Berger closed with a 64, but lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington in the 2015 Honda Classic, and also finished in a tie for fourth at PGA National last season.
- Shane Lowry, Ireland – The reigning Open champion, who also won the 2015 WGC-Bridgestone, recorded his best result on the PGA Tour this season when he finished eighth in the Players Championship. Also tied for 11th in Houston Open. Lowry has played in the Honda Classic three times, with his best result a tie for 21st last year.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year claimed his only victory on the circuit last season in the Honda Classic in his second appearance at PGA National, shooting 66 in the second and last rounds. Im tied for 17th in the Players last week, his eighth top-25 finish of the season, including a tie for second in the Masters.
- Brian Harman, Unites States – The left-hander tied for third in the Players Championship, his best finish of the season, which also includes a tie for eighth in The American Express among four top-25 results. Harman’s best results in the Honda Classic were a tie for 11th in 2015 and a tie for 12th in 2012. He holds the course record of 62.
- Talor Gooch, United States – Tied for fifth in the Players Championship after also finishing fourth in the Houston Open and fifth in the CJ Cup among his five results in the top-25 this season. Gooch is making his fourth appearance in the Honda Classic, with his best result a tie for 20th two years ago, when he shot 68 in the second and last rounds.
- Lee Westwood, England – Was second to Byrson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and second to Justin Thomas in the Players the last two weeks. Also was second in World Tour Championship-Dubai in November to win Race to Dubai for a third time. Fourth in the Honda last year and 2012, and tied for ninth in 2013 and 2010.
- Phil Mickelson, United States – Lefty played his best golf since winning twice on the PGA Tour Champions last year when he shot par or better in all four rounds in the Players, but all it got him was a tie for 35th. Has played in the Honda Classic five times, but not since 2016, with his best results a tie for 11th in 2007 and a tie for 17th in 2015.
- Adam Scott, Australia – Claimed one of his 14 PGA Tour victories by one stroke over Sergio Garcia in the 2016 Honda Classic and has four other finishes in the top-15 at PGA National. Scott won the Genesis Invitational last year, but his best result this season was a tie for 10th in the Farmers Insurance Open, and he also tied for 21st in the Sony TOC.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – The 22-year-old Niemann, who won last year at the Greenbrier, lost in a playoff at the Sentry TOC, tied for second in the Sony Open in Hawaii and was sixth in the CJ Cup this season. Tied for 29th in Players. Missed the cut in the Honda last year after tying for 59th in 2019, and has not broken 70 in six rounds.
- Keegan Bradley, United States – The 2011 PGA champion, who has three other victories on the big tour, tied for fourth at Sanderson Farms, tied for 10th in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for 15th in RSM. Bradley tied for fourth in his first start in the Honda Classic, but his best results in six more tries was a tie for 12th the next year.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Rickie Fowler, United States; Danny Willett, England; Chris Kirk, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; United States; Zach Johnson, United States; Graeme McDowell, Northern Ireland; Stewart Cink, United States; Nick Taylor, Canada; Brendan Steele, United States; Rory Sabbatini, Slovakia.
- Dylan Frittelli, South Africa – Winner of 2019 John Deere Classic finished T-5 in the Masters and was T-22 in the Players last week. Finished 11th in the 2018 Honda Classic.
- Adam Long, United States – Won the 2019 Desert Classic and this season was T-3 at Mayakoba, fifth at Puntacana and T-22 in the Players. T-27th in Honda Classic last year.
- J.T. Poston, United States – Wyndham champion in 2019 was third at Sanderson Farms, T-11 in Phoenix, T-22 in Players this season. Finished T-35 in Honda last year.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour finished T-2 at Farmers and T-4 at Sanderson Farms this season. Missed the cut in Honda debut in 2020.
- Brandon Wu, United States – Won 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Championship, had two T-2s among five top-10s. T-7 in PGA’s 2021 Puerto Rico Open. Making debut in Honda.
For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html