Si Woo Kim be­comes youngest win­ner of Play­ers Cham­pi­onship

Cape Breton Post - - Sports | Scoreboard - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON 5)& "440$*"5&% 13&44

Si Woo Kim of South Korea be­came the youngest win­ner of The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship with a game and nerves well be­yond his 21 years.

On a TPC Saw­grass course where any­thing can go wrong with­out no­tice, Kim was the only player to go bo­gey-free Sun­day and closed with a 3-un­der 69 for a three-shot vic­tory in golf’s big­gest tour­na­ment this side of the ma­jors.

He also man­aged to take all the sus­pense from the TPC Saw­grass.

All that could stop him was the fi­nal two holes, when Kim had a two-shot lead and faced a tee shot to an is­land green, and then a clos­ing hole with water all the way down the left side. Kim hit the 17th green and two-putted from 45 feet, and he smashed an­other drive right down the mid­dle.

The only drama at the end came from Ian Poul­ter, who was happy just to be here.

Poul­ter, who only two weeks ago was spared his full PGA Tour sta­tus be­cause of a cler­i­cal over­sight, was the only player to se­ri­ously chal­lenge Kim un­til he ran out of holes. He pushed his ap­proach to the 18th so far to the right that it car­omed off hos­pi­tal­ity tents and bounced off a cart path into a pal­metto bush. He took a penalty drop, then hit wedge over the trees and nearly holed it, tap­ping in for par.

Poul­ter, who had gone 39 holes with­out a bo­gey un­til a cru­cial one at No. 12, closed with a 71. He tied for sec­ond with Louis Oosthuizen (73).

There was plenty of ex­cite­ment Sun­day.

Rafa Cabr­era Bello of Spain hit 8-iron that bounded off the side of a bunker and into the cup for an al­ba­tross 2 on the par-5 16th. He fol­lowed that with a birdie on the 17th, and then holed a long par putt from just off the 18th green. That gave him a 70 and a tie for fourth with Kyle Stan­ley, a co-leader af­ter 54 holes who shot 75.

The other co-leader was J.B. Holmes, and it was a hor­ror show for the Kentuckian.

Holmes shot 40 on the front nine and still had hope un­til bo­geys on the 14th and 15th holes. And then it turned ugly. He hit too shots into the water on the 17th and make a quin­tu­ple-bo­gey 8, then fin­ished with a dou­ble bo­gey to close with an 84.

He was tied for the lead at the start of the day and fin­ished in a tie for 41st.

It was the worst fin­ish by a 54-hole leader in tour­na­ment his­tory, a record that pre­vi­ously be­longed to Graeme McDow­ell (2011) and Alex Ce­jka (2009), who both shot 79.

Holmes wasn’t alone. De­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­son Day closed with an 80, keep­ing very much in tact the streak of no win­ner ever re­peat­ing in the Play­ers. Rickie Fowler, who won the year be­fore, closed with a 79.

As for the win­ner? That was rarely in doubt over the back nine. Even though Kim only hit eight greens in reg­u­la­tion, he went six straight holes on the back with­out fac­ing a par putt over 2 feet. Kim bumped a fair­way metal to just over 3 feet on the fi­nal hole and rapped in the par putt to be­ing the cel­e­bra­tion.

“I still can’t be­lieve I’m the cham­pion, and I’m the youngest cham­pion,” Kim said. “I’m look­ing for­ward to work­ing hard from now on.”

Kim said he wasn’t ner­vous be­cause of his vic­tory last year in the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship, which gave him a two-year ex­emp­tion on the PGA Tour. This vic­tory comes with perks be­yond the $1.89 mil­lion first prize. He now gets a five-year ex­emp­tion on the PGA Tour, and a three-year ex­emp­tion to the Masters.

The pre­vi­ous youngest cham­pion of The Play­ers was Adam Scott, who was 23 when he won in 2005.

Kim be­comes the sec­ond player from South Korea to win The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship, join­ing K.J. Choi in 2011.

“From that mo­ment, I was dream­ing that I re­ally want to be in this tour­na­ment,” Kim said through a trans­la­tor. “And I’m very glad I could prac­tice with him. He gave me a lot of ad­vice. That’s why I could do well.”

Just over four years ago, Kim came over to Amer­ica to play the fi­nal ver­sion of PGA Tour’s qual­i­fy­ing school. He earned a card at age 17, but he could not be­come a PGA Tour mem­ber un­til he turned 18 the fol­low­ing June. That card ef­fec­tively went to waste, and Kim spent the next two years on the de­vel­op­men­tal tour un­til earn­ing his card back to the big leagues.

Now he’s here to stay for at least the next five years, and based on his game, prob­a­bly much longer.

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Si Woo Kim of South Korea holds The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship Tro­phy, Sun­day, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

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