Masters leader Sungjae Im excited by father’s near-ace in Par-3

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Par-3 contest at the Masters is supposed to bring nothing but luck for this simple reason: No one who won it won the green jacket four days later.

So it was a surprise on Thursday when first-round leader Sungjae Im revealed that an inspiration for his lights out, 5-under 67, was “some good vibes from my dad” that he received from a shot his father took during the rain-shortened Par-3.

“He landed a great shot at No. 9,” Im said through an interpreter, “and it was an exciting day for me.”

Ji Taek Im, the player’s old man, was a big hit on the last hole of the contest. Wearing his white caddy jumpsuit, he took an amateur hack off his tee shot and landed it 4ft left of the flagstick, prompting howling laughs from his son and other pros, and a full series of hearty high fives.

“It’s definitely a memorable day,” Sungjae Im said. “I wasn’t expecting much. … I remember the group behind us, we were at the tee box – Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns and Billy Horschel. They were just having fun and having fun with my dad, and that made me laugh too, so I laughed.

Sungjae Im

“But once he hit the shot, it was the best shot I’ve seen. It was like a professional shot. It was definitely a fun and memorable day.

Maybe not as fun and memorable as Thursday, when I put myself in a position to do what he almost did in 2020, when he finished tied for second place behind Dustin Johnson in the delayed November Masters by the pandemic in his Augusta National debut. It was the South Korean’s introduction to an American golf audience who, 17 months later, spent the day transfixed by the remarkable return of Tiger Woods as Im slipped through the backdoor and took the lead by edging out Tiger four strokes.

“I feel like I can play well here every time,” Im said, citing his breakthrough in 2020. “I think [the course] matches my game. It requires good shots from tee to green overall, and it’s important to put the shots in places where I have a chance to attack the green. … Globally [2020] is a great memory that I will keep with me. Just finishing second here at the Masters is something I’m really proud of. But we are only one day away. … I just want to keep this momentum going and try to finish this week well.

Im, 24, opened his round with three straight birdies, but the hole that propelled him to the top of the leaderboard was the par-5 13th, where he hit a hybrid into the green before sinking an eagle putt. He now has a chance to follow last year’s champion, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, as the second Asian player to win the Masters.

“I don’t want to think about outdoing anything right now,” Im said. “I still have a lot of days to play and there are a lot of talented players here at the Masters. But talking about Hideki’s victory last year, I have the greatest respect for him. I watch him play since I was a child, and I hope good things will happen.

Hopefully, for Im’s sake, he’ll pull off a shot as good as the one his dad hit on Wednesday in the Par-3.

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