Im takes first US PGA title in Honda Classic thriller

Miami (AFP) –


South Korea's Im Sung-jae captured his first US PGA Tour title on Sunday with a four-under par 66 final round to win a dramatic four-man shootout at the Honda Classic.

The 21-year-old Asian prodigy, last year's US PGA Rookie of the Year, birdied four of the first five holes and sank tension-packed birdie putts at the par-3 15th and 17th to help secure the victory at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Im became the youngest winner in tournament history with a breakthrough triumph at PGA National in his 50th US PGA start.

"I've been in this spot many times and just gaining the experience throughout the weeks helped me stay in the moment," Im said through a translator.

"I feel like the experience really helped, especially on the last few holes to pull out the win."

Im finished 72 holes on six-under 274 for a one-stroke victory over Canada's Mackenzie Hughes. Britain's Tommy Fleetwood was third on 276 and American Brendan Steele shared fourth on 277 with England's Lee Westwood, American Daniel Berger and South Korean An Byeong-hun.

Im made a huge drive over water to eight feet at the par-3 15th and sank the putt to create a four-man logjam atop the leaderboard with Fleetwood, Hughes and Steele.

Hughes sank a stunning 53-foot birdie putt at the 17th to briefly match Im for the lead, but the South Korean calmly answered moments later with a birdie putt from just inside eight feet to reclaim the solo lead for good.

England's Fleetwood, runner-up at the 2018 US Open and 2019 British Open and seeking his first US PGA victory, sank a 24-foot birdie putt at 17 to pull within one of Im heading to the par-5 18th with Steele two back.

- 'a little more aggressive' -

Fleetwood and Steele both plunked their second shots into the water at 18 to doom their title hopes while Hughes pulled his approach left into the grandstand, recovering for a par but settling for second place.

Im made aggressive shots on the closing holes to set up his birdies, knowing the event was up for grabs.

"I knew I was one back going into the last four," Im said. "I wanted to get a little more aggressive than I had been playing on the final holes. I felt pretty good after the birdie."

Hughes, whose last top-10 effort was nine months ago at Colonial, shared the lead at 16 but missed the fairway with his approach and was just short on a 22-foot par putt.

Im found a fairway bunker but blasted out with a 5-iron from 176 yards and two-putted from 28 feet for a key par.

At 18, Im layed up on his second shot out of the rough only to find a bunker with his third, but blasted his 60-foot bunker shot two feet beyond the hole and made the putt.

Fleetwood began with a one-stroke lead and made a birdie-birdie start, but Im sizzled at the start, the longest of his four birdie putts in the first five holes coming from just inside 11 feet at the first.

Im scraped out a par at the sixth by sinking a 19-foot putt, but missed a six-footer for par at the par-3 seventh.

He sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th but he fell back with bogeys at 12 and 13, missing par putts from four and eight feet, only to make a winning charge.