AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who said we wouldn’t get another fall Masters? Yes, it’s April 7 on the calendar, but through 18 holes of this 86th edition, the top three spots on the scoreboard are similar to the final standing two Novembers ago.
Dustin Johnson, who slipped on the green jacket in 2020, is tied for third at 3 under. A shot ahead is Cameron Smith, who shared second two years back. They are both looking up at Sungjae Im, the leader at 5 under who is attempting to better his T-2 showing in his Masters debut.
“Because of that experience I feel comfortable when I come to Augusta,” Im said Thursday. “I feel like I can play well here every time.”
Im flushed a 6-iron into the opening green to set up a 7-foot birdie and spark a run of three straight birdies. He gave a couple shots back to begin his second nine, but he made up for that by drawing a hybrid from 223 yards to 12 feet and making eagle at the par-5 13th hole.
“I'm glad with how everything went today,” Im said.
Im was upbeat as he fielded questions from both American and Korean reporters inside Augusta National’s interview room. His excitement reached a crescendo, though, when speaking about his father Ji Taek Im’s tee shot on the ninth hole of Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest. There was just one ace recorded, by Jason Kokrak, but Ji Taek almost added the second, his ball settling just a few feet from the cup.
“Received some good vibes from my dad,” Sungjae said with a big smile. “It’s definitely a memorable day. I didn't expect much. … When he was setting up, 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 a crack at my dad, and it got me, too, so I was laughing. But once he hit the shot, it was the most beautiful shot I've seen. It was like a professional shot.”
Sungjae knows about those. He hit them with frequency Thursday – and here in 2020, too. But he’s also aware that past success doesn’t always guarantee future success.
“It's a great memory that I'll carry on with me,” he said of his sensational fall Masters. “Just to finish runner-up here in the Masters is a feat that I really am proud of. But again, we're only one day in. … I just want to keep this momentum going and try to finish well this week.
“I don't want to think about overachieving anything at this moment. I still have a lot of days of play, and there are a lot of talented players out here.”