LA QUINTA, Ca. — Si Woo Kim left the Coachella Valley a year ago with his back aching again and his game in disarray.
The 25-year-old South Korean returned this week with a healthy back and a rock-solid mentality that didn’t even waver when Patrick Cantlay threatened to run away with The American Express.
Kim birdied two of the final three holes to finish an 8-under 64 Sunday, coolly rallying past the late-charging Cantlay by one shot to earn his third PGA TOUR victory.
A year after Kim shot a 15-over 87 in the first round and quickly withdrew from this event because of his persistent back problems, he began the final round with a share of the lead atop a crowded board. He endured a restless night as he prepared to chase his first win since THE PLAYERS Championship in 2017, a string of 102 straight starts without a victory.
“Every year, I’ve had a chance, but I couldn’t make it,” Kim said through a translator. “I had a lot of resolve in my mind last night. I took melatonin, but still I didn’t sleep very well.”
Kim acknowledged he watched the leaderboard while he played. Six groups ahead of him, Cantlay shot a 61 and surged out of 13th place to the front while breaking the Stadium Course record by two strokes.
“I had to know what’s going on, so I knew how to play my game in the final round,” Kim said. “I knew Cantlay played really well. I tried to keep patient and believe in myself. I got the chance on 16 and 17, and that’s when I could make it. I feel good about myself.”
Cantlay’s surge still only put him one stroke in the lead, and Kim comfortably birdied the par-5 16th to pull even. Kim then buried a 19-foot birdie putt on the island green on the 17th to move back in front, joyously pumping his fist when his perfectly paced putt dropped.
“I thought I would have a chance at a playoff,” Cantlay said after falling just short of his fourth career victory despite his best career round as a pro. “I played about as good as I can possibly play.”
Kim wrapped up his third bogey-free round of the tournament — all on the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course — with a two-putt par on the 18th to finish at 23-under 265 in this Palm Springs-area event long hosted by Bob Hope.
“I just tried to focus on my game,” Kim said. “I didn’t even know I had a bogey-free round today.”
Kim joined Collin Morikawa as the only PGA TOUR players under 26 years old with three career wins.
Cantlay was in 56th place when the third round began after making the cut on the number, but the Southern California native’s 65-61 finish shot him out of the crowded field and nearly led to his second victory of the 2020-21 season. He also won the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Thousand Oaks last October when it was relocated from Japan.
“I knew they still had a bunch of holes left, but really I put myself so behind the 8-ball (on Thursday and Friday),” Cantlay added. “I played unbelievable this weekend. I did everything I could. Just going to be a shot short.”
Australia’s Cameron Davis (64) finished a career-best third at 20 under. Tony Finau (68) finished fourth after starting the final round with a share of the lead in his quest to land his long-awaited second PGA TOUR win.
“A couple of those guys just went really low today,” Finau said. “I had some opportunities, I think, to shoot a number. But man, I’m kind of leaving today pretty encouraged. I played nicely.”
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (66), Michael Thompson (66) and Doug Ghim (69) finished tied for fifth at 15 under.
The 28-year-old Cantlay made 11 birdies in the final round, including six in eight holes on the front nine. Cantlay capped his spectacular round with a 37-foot birdie putt on the 18th, pumping his fist subtly for the few fans clapping from their houses near the green.
Cantlay was born in Long Beach, went to high school in Anaheim and was the Division I player of the year at UCLA before his pro career.
All told, Cantlay made 20 birdies in his final two rounds, offset by two bogeys Saturday. Kim made 13 birdies in his last two rounds.
Third-round co-leaders Max Homa and Finau both faded, with Homa struggling to five bogeys in a 76, leaving him at 11 under. Finau posted his third top-10 finish of the season, but couldn’t keep up with Kim.
LA QUINTA, Ca. — Max Homa has been tearing up the Stadium Course at The American Express for two days. If he can do it one more time Sunday, the Southern California native could be raising his second career PGA TOUR trophy.Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double bogey on the way to a 7-under 65 in the third round Saturday, joining Tony Finau and Si Woo Kim atop the leaderboard at 15-under 201.
Richy Werenski also shot a 65 and moved within a shot of the lead on the Stadium Course at PGA WEST near Palm Springs.
Scotland’s Russell Knox shot the day’s low round with a 64 — one stroke off the course record — to join Brian Harman and Emiliano Grillo at 13 under.
Finau and Kim both shot 67. Kim was bogey-free, while the streakier Finau bounced back from a double bogey on the 13th with three consecutive birdies.
The field played through sparse desert rain in the afternoon. Precipitation finally fell in earnest when the final group reached the 18th hole, with Finau and Kim forced to pull out their umbrellas.
Second-round leader Sungjae Im struggled to a 73, leaving him five shots off the lead after four bogeys — including a triple bogey on the ninth after putting two straight shots in the water. First-round leader Brandon Hagy shot a 72 and was even with Im at 10 under.
Homa is in prime position for his second career win in his first tournament of the new year. He began the day just three shots off Im’s pace at 8 under, and he swiftly closed the gap with four birdies in his first five holes.
Homa has 17 birdies in the last two rounds on the Stadium Course.
“There’s obviously a handful of very daunting holes, but I’ve been fortunate enough to play here a ton, so I have a pretty good feel for the place,” Homa said. “I’ve been able to put myself in a position to have good looks for birdie, and I’ve been putting great. It’s just something about these greens. It feels like home.”
The Burbank-born son of a well-known acting coach put his tee shot in the water and two-putted for that double bogey on the seventh, but Homa made up for it with birdies on five of his next eight holes, including three in a row down the back stretch.
Finau put his tee shot in the water on the 13th and then missed a 10-inch putt for double bogey, but the Utah native rebounded with three of his eight birdies on a series of impressive approach shots.
Werenski charged into fourth with a round that included six birdies and was highlighted by an eagle on the fifth after an exceptional 224-yard approach shot left him a 4-foot putt.
The 29-year-old Massachusetts native is seeking his second PGA TOUR win. After going bogey-free through his first 48 holes at The American Express, he finally missed a 10-foot par putt on the 13th before rallying with two more birdies down the stretch.
“I’ve been giving myself plenty of looks and just haven’t been converting them, and today I finally made some (putts),” Werenski said. “So I think we’re kind of turning the corner.. … I’ve always liked this place. I’ve never finished really, really high here, but I’ve always known that I could play really good. It just fits my eye.”
Australia’s Cameron Davis had the shot of the day on the 15th, holing out for eagle from 157 yards away from a section of rough below the fairway. Davis finished the third round at 12-under 204 along with Rory Sabbatini, Chase Seiffert, Francesco Molinari and Doug Ghim.
LA QUINTA, Calif. — Sungjae Im shot a 7-under 65 on Friday at The American Express to take a one-stroke lead over first-round leader Brandon Hagy and four others.
Im, the 22-year-old South Korean who was the PGA TOUR’s rookie of the year in 2019, had seven birdies in the bogey-free round on the Stadium Course at PGA WEST, highlighted by three in four holes around the turn.
Hagy was in position to join Im at 11 under, but he bogeyed his final hole with a tee shot into the fairway bunker to finish his 70.
Canada’s Nick Taylor (66), South Korea’s Si Woo Kim (68), Tony Finau (66) and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (65) also were 10 under. Emiliano Grillo (66), Francesco Molinari (66) and Doug Ghim (68) were two shots off the lead.
The leaderboard was crowded with low scores as usual at the Palm Springs-area tournament long hosted by Bob Hope. Im, Taylor and Ancer were among 12 players who didn’t make a bogey Friday.
After splitting the first two rounds over two courses, the players will all play the Stadium Course for the final two rounds.
Tournament host Phil Mickelson made 18 pars for the first time in his 2,201 rounds of PGA TOUR play. The 50-year-old missed the cut at 2 over.
With his drives looking sharp and his mid-range putts dropping regularly, Im is off to another strong start at a tournament in which he has already finished 10th and 12th in his short PGA TOUR career.
“I’m pretty satisfied with how I played all of my shots,” said Im, who feels his putting has improved sharply this year. “Speaking of putting, I started drawing a line on the ball as I visualize my putts, and that seemed to work pretty well today.”
Im also feels he might have an edge because didn’t travel home to South Korea during the holiday break due to the mandatory coronavirus quarantine required. Instead, he stayed in the house he recently purchased in Atlanta and practiced for the new season.
Hagy made 10 birdies in his opening round, but got off to a rough start Friday on the Stadium Course with two early bogeys. He rallied with birdies on his 16th and 17th holes, but his errant drive on his final hole kept him one shot off the pace.
Taylor, who also led the Sony Open in Hawaii after two rounds last week, shot a 66 with six birdies on the Stadium Course. He had three straight birdies on the back nine of his bogey-free round, including a 24-foot birdie putt on the 15th and an 18-footer on the island green at the 17th.
Taylor appears to be rounding into impressive form as he prepares to defend his Pebble Beach title in three weeks.
“My game feels really good right now, so hopefully it keeps peaking,” he said. “It was a lot of intimidating tee shots, iron shots into greens. I feel like I missed in the right places. I drove it really nice on the par-5s and gave myself pretty easy looks on a few of them.”