Kim ran off eight birdies over his final 13 holes and set the course record at Congressional with an 8-under 62, giving him a two-shot lead over tournament host Tiger Woods and two others.
The 24-year-old Kim has not won since his victory in the AT&T National last year, slowed by an assortment of injuries that caused his game to slip just as he was being anointed the next great American player.
It was the best round of his PGA Tour career, although Kim walked off the par-5 ninth green slightly perturbed after narrowly missing a 10-foot birdie putt. Apparently, eight birdies wasnt enough.
But it was enough to hold off Woods, who missed his tournament last year after having season-ending knee surgery. Woods played in the afternoon with deceptive wind swirling from trees lining the fairways. He missed only two fairways and three greens, and made enough putts for a 64, his lowest round since the 2007 Tour Championship.
Today was nice to get back inside the ropes and get out there and try to catch AK, Woods said. He lit it up this morning.
Bryce Molder, who can qualify for the British Open with a strong week at Congressional, hit a 3-wood to 4 feet on the par-3 second hole and escaped trouble a few times on the back nine to join a group at 64 that also included D.A. Points.
Former PGA champion Steve Elkington was another shot back on a day of exceptional scoring in relatively soft conditions from overnight rain in the Washington area.
U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover had a 69, an otherwise good start except when the leader already is in the clubhouse at 62.
Whenever you can make a bunch of birdies and not bogeys to follow it up, its going to be a good day, Kim said. And fortunately, I kept the ball in play for most of the day and finally got some putts to fall this year.
Kim extended his bogey-free streak at Congressional to 40 holes, dating to the third round a year ago. He missed only one green, coming up just short on the 18th and chipping to about 3 feet. The longest par putt he faced all day was from 4 feet.
Even though its the first week of July, it already feels like a long year to Kim.
He has not finished in the top 10 since his runner-up finish in the season-opening tournament at Kapalua, as he traveled the world while coping with injuries, the latest to his left thumb. He had to regrip the club on his backswing, making him tentative.
But as the strength returned, Kim has been able to set the club properly and swing more explosively through the ball.
As he worked his way along a rail to sign autographs, Fred Funk looked over at Kim and asked him what he shot. Without looking up, Kim casually told him he had a 62.
Sixty-what? Funk said, not believing what he heard. Where did you cut over?
There were no shortcuts for Kim, and only limited theatrics. Only two of his birdie putts were tap-in range, as Kim played to spots on the green instead of getting locked in on the flag when it didnt make sense.
Not only is Kim feeling healthy, he is getting stronger. Over the last two months, he has been working intensively with Darby Rich, whom he met at Oklahoma and who recently worked with Blake Griffin as the Sooners basketball trainer.
Hes really focused, almost obsessed, Rich said of Kims recent devotion to fitness and diet. The last couple of days, I feel like Ive had to tell him to back off. Hes really driven to get back to where he was.