South Korean Si Woo Kim becomes youngest winner of Players Championship

By The Sports Xchange   |   May 14, 2017 at 8:53 PM
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For most of Sunday afternoon, Si Woo Kim of South Korea looked as if he were taking a walk in the park rather than trying to hold the lead in one of the PGA Tour's most important events on one of the world's toughest golf courses.

Kim took charge on the front nine, kept his cool down the stretch and closed with a 3-under-par 69 to finish with a three-shot victory at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Kim, who fashioned three birdies on the front nine and finished his round with nine straight pars, was unflappable on the challenging Stadium Course. He ended at 10-under 278. At 21 years, 10 months and 16 days, Kim is the youngest winner of the tournament referred to as "the fifth major" on the PGA Tour.

"I feel like I'm still dreaming," Kim said via a translator after the victory. "I never expected that I'm going to win this tournament, and I wasn't doing that well at the beginning of this year, but I'm just so excited that I could be the champion. I just focused on myself and I didn't try to think about others' scores. I think that really helped me to be stable."

Ian Poulter of England (71) and second-round co-leader Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa (73) tied for second at 281. Third-round co-leader Kyle Stanley (75) and Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain (70) tied for fourth at 282, four strokes behind Kim.

Third-round co-leader J.B. Holmes ballooned to an 84 on Sunday and plummeted into a tie for 41st at 291.

Poulter stayed on Kim's heels throughout the final nine holes until a shanked approach shot into the trees right of the fairway on the closing hole ended his chance. He needed a circus shot to manage a bogey.

"It was a big shock to the system to hit one of those nasty shanks when I've hit it as good as I have all week," Poulter said of his approach at the final hole. "But the fourth shot was pretty special, from one of the worst shots I've ever hit to one of the very best. It's nice to close out -- it's nice obviously not to compound an error with another one.

"As good as this week was, I'm still going to try and dissect it and work on certain things that need working on -- like the dreaded shank. Oh, it was a full one. Yeah, it was a lovely one. Make no mistake -- it was a shank. You'd like me to spell it for you?"

Kim claimed his second win on the PGA Tour in just his second appearance in the tournament after finishing tied for 23rd last year in his debut at The Players.

Kim's first PGA Tour victory came at last season's Wyndham Championship in his 38th PGA Tour start. He owns five additional top-10 finishes in 61 career starts on Tour, but his only top 10 this season was a tie for 10th at the CIMB Classic.

"Usually I'm very nervous, but last year I won one of the tournaments and then I could get the two years of exemption," Kim said. "Because of that, I can play aggressively, and I wasn't that nervous this year."

Kim is the second player from South Korea (the first was K.J. Choi, his hero and mentor) to win The Players.

"K.J. has become a really good model," Kim said. "So because he had won before I have, I am kind of confident that a Korean can win one of these tournaments, and that actually helps me when I'm playing."

The win at The Players grants Kim a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour as well as a five-year exemption into this tournament. It also carries, among other perks, an exemption into the U.S. Open through 2019 and an invitation into the Masters through 2020.

Kim finished tied for 20th at the 2012 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament at PGA West near Palm Springs, Calif., at age 17 years, 5 months, 6 days, making him the youngest player to graduate from qualifying school. His rookie season on Tour was in 2013, but he only made eight starts because he did not turn 18 until June 28.

He then returned to the Web.com Tour until he locked up his PGA Tour card for the 2015-16 season by finishing 23rd on the 2015 Web.com Tour priority list.

Cabrera Bello played the final three holes at the Stadium Course -- the par-5 16th, par-3 17th and lengthy par-4 closing hole -- in just eight strokes, 4 under par. He made a double-eagle 2 at the 16th, the first ever at the hole during the tournament.

Stanley birdied the 17th in the final round and became the first player in tournament history to make a 2 on the par-3 all four days.

NOTES: The largest final-round, come-from-behind victory in the tournament is six strokes by Raymond Floyd in 1981 at Sawgrass Country Club. ... The largest final-round, come-from-behind victory at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is five shots by Justin Leonard (1998) and Henrik Stenson (2009). ... World No. 1 Dustin Johnson carded a 68 in the final round, just his third round in the 60s in 30 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass. His 68 matched his low round at the Stadium Course. ... Australian Adam Scott, who was 23 when he won in 2004, holds the record for fewest starts (41) on the PGA Tour by an eventual winner of The Players. ... Friday's 36-hole cut at 2-over 146 was the highest at The Players since 2008. ... A 54-hole cut to the low 70 and ties was made after Saturday's third round with 71 players at 5 over or better advancing to the final round.

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