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Honda Classic Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 15 Mar 2021 | Comments

Sungjae Im is a machine. He famously plays week in, week out, churning out top-10 finishes for fun. And it came as no surprise when he won The Honda Classic last year, beating Mackenzie Hughes and England’s Tommy Fleetwood by a shot.

The South Korean played beautifully in the final round to secure his maiden victory at his 50th attempt. He shot a four-under-par 66 for a six-under-par winning total, which was the second-highest winning score since tournament moved to PGA National in 2007. He was rookie of the year in 2019, and has played more tournaments and more rounds than anyone since the 2018-19 season began.

And now, he was a winner, the seventh from South Korea to win on the PGA Tour, and The Honda Classic's 10th international champion in 16 seasons. He was also the fifth player to get that first win at PGA National, joining Keith Mitchell in 2019, Michael Thompson in 2013, Y.E. Yang in 2009 and Mark Wilson in 2007.

Im birdied four of his first five holes, then birdied two of the final four to finish off the victory and pick up $1.26m. Hughes, a Canadian who made the cut on the number, shot his second consecutive 66. Playing alongside Im, he missed a birdie putt at the par-five finishing hole that would have forced a playoff.

Fleetwood started the day one shot clear of the field and started birdie-birdie to get to seven under. But then the course bit back.

He dropped a shot at the par-four sixth and failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-four eighth, giving back what was left of his lead at that point and sharing the top spot at five under with Im.

Moments after Im finished, Fleetwood made a dramatic 25-footer for birdie on the par-three 17th to get to five under. But Fleetwood's second on the finishing hole leaked right and splashed into the water, and once his next from 120 yards failed to find the hole, Im could begin to celebrate after having watched the finish on TV.

"I've been in this spot many times. I just felt like the experience really helped," Im said through a translator.

Shane Lowry

(Shane Lowry Has Entered The Field at PGA National)

He had finished third at the Zozo Championship in Japan but was totally overshadowed by Tiger Woods tying the PGA Tour record of 82 career victories. And he then went 3-1-1 to tie for the best showing by a player on the International Team at the Presidents Cup, but the U.S. Team captained by Woods rallied in the singles on the final day to win the trophy at Royal Melbourne.

But this time, nobody was going to steal his moment.

Hughes and Im had reached the par-three 17th green - the end of the "Bear Trap" three-hole stretch - in very different spots. Im stuck his tee shot eight feet from the hole while Hughes had nearly 55 feet left from above the hole. Hughes holed to an enormous roar from the gallery. It took him to five under and tied him for the lead with Im. But the South Korean wasted little time over his own downhill putt and duly holed it. It took him one in front and that turned out to be good enough.

Fleetwood is still looking to get a monkey off his back. He has come close to winning on American soil but is yet to seal the deal. You may recall that Colin Montgomerie was never able to win on the PGA Tour and had to wait until joining the Champions Tour before landing his first title in America.

Fleetwood will be hoping that history does not repeat itself. That he is good enough is beyond dispute but the longer he goes without that elusive win, the harder it becomes for him to do it. He will believe that if he keeps putting himself in position there will come a Sunday when those crucial putts do finally drop.

The tournament was won in 2015 by Padraig Harrington, in 2016 by Adam Scott, in 2017 by Rickie Fowler, in 2018 by Justin Thomas, in 2019 by Keith Mitchell and last year by Sungjae Im.

To Win:

Daniel Berger. A different player since the resumption

Each Way:

Gary Woodland. Fabulous ball striker

Fantasy Picks:

Daniel Berger. Now one of the best in the world

Gary Woodland. Goes about his business with minimum of fuss

Lee Westwood. Will he run out of steam

Russell Henley, Past winner who loves this venue

Ian Poulter. Looking for some form in Ryder Cup year.

Adam Scott. If only he could putt

Shane Lowry. Showed some flashes of his best at Sawgrass

Henrik Stenson. Has endured a miserable 12 months

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Tags: PGA Tour FedEx Cup

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