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Sungjae Im of South Korea uses an umbrella on the second green during the first round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Photo: Getty Images

PGA Tour Championship: South Korea’s Sungjae Im stays in hunt as Scottie Scheffler leads

  • 3-under 67 in rain in Atlanta moves Im up to tied-6th in the staggered-start tournament based on FedExCup rankings
  • Im is making his fourth successive appearance at the Tour Championship as Asia seeks its first FedExCup champion
PGA Tour

South Korean star Sungjae Im remained unfazed after leader Scottie Scheffler charged ahead following the first round of the Tour Championship, the FedExCup Playoffs finale.

Im scrambled to a three-under 67 on a rainy day at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta to move up to tied sixth position on seven under, after beginning the week on four under in the staggered-start tournament based on players’ positions on the FedExCup rankings.

World No 1 Scheffler, who entered the final week as the top seed following four victories this season, put a firm grip on the PGA Tour’s ultimate prize following a stellar 65 which included an eagle on the sixth hole and three closing birdies as he chases a first FedExCup win.

Starting the week on 10 under, the 26-year-old Scheffler on Thursday extended his starting two-shot advantage to five over Xander Schauffele (66), with US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick (64) lying a further stroke back.

Scottie Scheffler hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Photo: AP

“I still have three rounds to go, so each day means a lot,” said Im. “I need to focus on each shot. I’m not trying to focus on the leader nor the stroke difference but only with my own game.”

The two-time tour winner trails Scheffler by eight with three rounds to play.

After a routine two-putt birdie on the par-five sixth hole, the 24-year-old Im rattled home putts of 22 feet on No 8 and 11 for birdies. He made his lone bogey on 17 after missing the green but bounced back with a closing birdie on 18 from eight feet. He missed seven fairways and five greens in regulation, and lamented an off day with his driver.

“I had a few mistakes but I was able to save my round which made it steady overall. I created some birdie chances with good putts. Because of the rain, the fairways was quite wet and it affected the driving distance. The greens were soft for us to take advantage but it’s just a little bit disappointing with the driver today.”

Countryman K.H. Lee, who is making his debut at East Lake, shot a 68 with six birdies and four bogeys to share 22nd position on two under with, among others, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama who carded a 70 which featured three birdies against as many bogeys. The duo are 13 strokes back of Scheffler.

With Asia still waiting for its first FedExCup champion since the playoffs were inaugurated in 2007, Im remains the best hope to break the drought. He entered the season-ending event in good form following two runners-up finishes and two top-15s, and being at home in his US-base Atlanta this week has kept him relaxed and ready to pounce.

“I’m able to go back and forth from home,” he said. “It makes this week less like a tournament when I’m sleeping on my own bed but I still get nervous when I come to the golf course. It is the biggest event after all but I’m well focused.”

Im, whose best finish to date in the FedExCup is 11th place in 2020, is making his fourth successive appearance at the Tour Championship.

“I was just trying to go out and shoot a good number,” said Scheffler. “When I’m on the golf course I’m just trying to go out there and do my best. I’m not looking at leader boards, I’m not looking at any of that other stuff.

“I am treating it like a four-day event, and just like any other one I’m going to go out there and try and put myself in position to win the tournament.”