The National Times - South Korea's Im soars to Masters lead

South Korea's Im soars to Masters lead

South Korea's Im soars to Masters lead
South Korea's Im soars to Masters lead

A little practice with his driver and some inspiration from his father buoyed South Korean Im Sung-jae as he seized the first-round lead at the Masters on Thursday.

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Im regained his touch at Augusta National, firing an eagle and five birdies in a five-under par 67 that gave him a one-stroke lead over Australian Cameron Smith.

The 24-year-old powered up the leaderboard with birdies at the first three holes, and landed his 219-yard second shot 12 feet from the pin for an eagle at the par-five 13th.

"I birdied the first three holes and that got me into a good rhythm," Im said.

"The 13th, I hit a good tee shot. The second shot, I hit a hybrid and it had a little bit of a draw, but it landed softly and I was able to convert that for an eagle. Overall, four good holes."

Im said he was excited by the hot start.

"But I'm going to be humble," he said. "I realize I still have three days to go."

Im is well aware that fortunes can change on the iconic Augusta National course.

He enjoyed a memorable debut when the Masters was played in November 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, finishing tied for second with Smith behind runaway winner Dustin Johnson -- who on Thursday was in a four-way tie for third, two shots off the lead.

But Im missed the Masters cut last year, when his Presidents Cup Internationals teammate Hideki Matsuyma became the first Japanese Masters champion.

And since opening the 2021-22 US PGA Tour season with a victory in Las Vegas last October, he has been unable to find the winner's circle again.

A share of 20th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is his best finish over the past two months.

"I felt like my driving game was not as up to what it used to be, so I worked on my driving, and today the key to a successful round was having good tee shots, so that worked well today," he said.

But the final boost came in Wednesday's Par 3 Contest, the light-hearted family affair held on the eve of the Masters.

"I received some good vibes from my dad," said Im, who played with his father, Im Ji-taek. "He hit a great shot at number nine.

"When he was setting up, 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. It was definitely a fun day and a memorable one."