DORAL, Fla. – Scratch Anthony Kim off your handicap sheet this week. He can’t win the WGC-CA Championship. The event doesn’t suit him.
Or maybe it suits him too well.
That’s the skeptic’s take on Kim’s chances this week despite the promising upturn in the young star’s game.
These folks don’t necessarily believe the TPC Blue Monster is too large a test for Kim. They wonder if South Beach is too much temptation for him. They don’t necessarily believe the famed 18th hole will be his undoing but that Club Mansion, the Mynt Ultra Lounge or Rok Bar might.
Actually, that’s what makes this the perfect place for Kim to send a message.
There’s something different about the 24-year-old two-time PGA Tour winner as he begins his fourth season.
Kim says he’s serious about realizing the vast potential that’s impressed so many of his PGA Tour brethren. There's no way to know a man's heart, but the fact that he has never looked more serious lends credence to his pledge. Kim hit the practice range Wednesday looking trim, fit and strong. He sounds hungry to finish off the impressive starts he’s made in his last two PGA Tour events and claim his first victory in nearly 20 months.
“I’m working hard,” Kim said. “I’m keeping a good attitude. When I do that, my game usually shows up.”
Kim fights the image of a guy who chases fun too deep into the night to be considered a serious threat to the game’s biggest prizes, but he is giving his inner circle reasons to think he’s on the verge of taking his game to another level.
There were double takes at Doral on Monday.
Anthony Kim played nine holes. There were double takes because Kim doesn’t do Mondays. At least he didn’t in his first three seasons on the PGA Tour. He rarely did Tuesdays. But Kim is making a new habit of becoming among the earliest players to show up during the work weeks this year.
“I’m practicing Mondays and Tuesdays instead of just coming out Wednesdays,” Kim said. “I know the more time I put into this, the more success I’ll have.”
Kim gave his caddie, Brodie Flanders, off on Monday and let his swing coach, Adam Schriber, carry his bag. That was significant, too. The fact that Schriber is here is yet another indication that Kim is trying to amp up his commitment. Kim says he’s asking Schriber to spend considerably more time with him at tournament sites this year. Schriber has been out for three of Kim’s four starts.
“I’m super proud of Anthony and the decisions he’s making,” Schriber said. “He’s heading in the right direction. He’s saying all the right things, but he’s a hard kid to push. He has his own timetable.”
Schriber sees Kim putting in the work it takes to consistently contend on Tour.
“He’s been working out like a mad man,” Schriber said. “I think it’s just Anthony maturing and realizing the gift he has.”
Kim finished second to Camilo Villegas at the Honda Classic last weekend despite a 3-over-par 73 on Saturday. He tied for 24th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open despite a 76 in the third round. Kim says he’s working on letting go of the frustration of setbacks like those Saturday scores the past two weeks.
“Even though I didn’t play good at Honda on the third day, I hung in there long enough to where I felt I had a shot on Sunday,” Kim said. “I’m getting closer. If I can just keep hanging in there and have a positive attitude, I’ll be in good shape.”
All this work is pointed toward the Masters and Augusta National, where Kim showed one of his most brilliant flashes of promise last year. His 11 birdies in the second round demonstrated the spectacular possibility in his game. Nobody’s ever made more birdies in a round at Augusta National. Not Tiger Woods, not Jack Nicklaus, not Ben Hogan.
“I don’t think Anthony has shown his A game yet for four rounds on the PGA Tour,” Schriber said. “We’ve talked about that. He’s said, `I haven’t shown my best stuff yet.’ He is determined to show that.”
A victory at Doral may speak to more than the state of Kim’s game but to the seriousness of his commitment. There’s more than the Blue Monster to beat here. There’s South Beach and all the hazards that can test a young star's priorities.