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Im, Matsuyama, Kim lead Asia's charge as FedExCup Playoffs begin

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Im, Matsuyama, Kim lead Asia's charge as FedExCup Playoffs begin
Sungjae Im (left) and Hideki Matsuyama
Getty Images

The FedExCup Playoffs begin at the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis on Thursday (Friday, Manila time), with Asia’s magnificent seven, led by Sungjae Im, Hideki Matsuyama and the in-form Joohyung “Tom” Kim, spearheading the charge to deliver a first ever winner from the region.

Since the FedExCup was inaugurated in 2007 as the PGA Tour’s ultimate and season-long prize, the best Asian finish has so far been achieved by Korean legend K.J. Choi when he came in fourth in the first playing.

Japan’s Matsuyama, who enters his ninth successive playoffs in 11th position, has a career-best of eighth place in 2017 after he concluded the regular season ranked No. 1. Meanwhile, Im, making his fourth playoffs in 10th position, had a close brush in 2020 when he entered the weekend at the Tour Championship in second place before eventually finishing 11th.

Other stars from the Far East among the top-125 teeing up at TPC Southwind this week include Korea duo K.H. Lee (40th) and Si Woo Kim (48th), Anirban Lahiri of India (63rd) and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan (92nd). World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who has won four times this season, including the Masters Tournament, will start the playoffs in pole position to win the FedExCup and a handsome US$18 million check that comes along with the prized trophy.

“Definitely I'm on a good momentum,” said Im, a two-time PGA Tour winner. “I feel great heading into the playoffs.”

The top-70 on the FedExCup rankings will progress into the BMW Championship at Wilmington Country Club in Delaware next week, before the season-finale Tour Championship featuring an elite 30-man field at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.

The 24-year-old Im arrived in Memphis in tip-top form following back-to-back tied second finishes at the 3M Open and Wyndham Championship to add to his one win and five other top-10s this season. With his ball-striking being at its typical best — Im ranks 10th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green — the Korean who is nicknamed Ironman hopes his putter can get a little bit hotter as he chases the FedExCup. He led into the final round of the Wyndham Championship but was surpassed by young compatriot Kim, who romped to the title with a closing 61.

“I missed a few clutch putts,” Im acknowledged. “I’m going to focus on playing well (the next three weeks).”

After a dizzying past few weeks where he earned his PGA Tour card and claimed a stunning maiden win on Sunday to become the second youngest winner since World War II, the 20-year-old Kim will be looking to extend his dream run. He will also hope to seal his place in the International Team for the Presidents Cup after skyrocketing to fifth place in the standings. The top-8 after next week’s BMW Championship earn automatic spots, with captain Trevor Immelman naming four picks later in the month to the face the United States Team led by Davis Love III.

“I thought I was going to get an off week this week. I'm pumped to be here and it's absolutely incredible,” said Kim on Tuesday. “I was going to go home (Seoul) for a week … it's been just travel, travel, travel. So I was kind of looking forward to that, but I mean, I'd rather be here than go home.”

Like most golfers his age, Kim grew up watching Tiger Woods win numerous times on the PGA Tour which provided the motivation and inspiration to chase his own dreams on the world’s elite circuit. “It's always about playing the PGA Tour. When I was younger, I would see Tiger win on the PGA Tour, not somewhere else, so for me that was always the goal. I felt like when I would one day get really old and not be able to play the game anymore, I would want to at least feel comfortable with retiring and say I played with the best players in the world.”

The Playoffs will also offer two final opportunities for the likes Lee, Si Woo Kim and Lahiri to force their way into the International Team. Lee, who successfully defended his AT&T Byron Nelson title in May, slipped from eighth to ninth position after Sunday while Lahiri, who featured in the Presidents Cup in 2015 and 2017, moved up to 15th place with a top-10 last weekend. Kim, a three-time Tour winner, is 19th entering the week.

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