Si Woo Kim matched his career low score at The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass with a third round 5-under 67 to put himself on the fringe of contention at THE PLAYERS Championship on Saturday.
Kim, who became the youngest PLAYERS winner in 2017 at the age of 21, will enter the final round in tied 11th position and six back of veteran Englishman Lee Westwood, who carded a bogey-free 68 for a two-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau in the PGA TOUR’s flagship tournament. Westwood leads on 13-under 203.
It wasn’t a day to remember for Sungjae Im, who started the round in tied fifth place and three off the pace as he carded a disastrous 77 to tumble down the leaderboard into tied 48th position while another Korean, K.H. Lee shot a 71 for T36.
The 24-year-old Kim hit only five fairways but his iron play was near flawless as he birdied all four par-5s at the Stadium Course. After sinking a 13-foot birdie on the 12th hole, he stormed home in style. On the 16th, the last of the par 5s on the Pete Dye-designed masterpiece, Kim drained his birdie putt from 29 feet and at the famous island green par-3 17th hole, he rolled in a tantalizing 36-foot curler for his first birdie on the signature hole this week.
“It was one of the best rounds I’ve played recently. I was quite solid and my short game is getting better and better, which helped me to save par and keep my game going. On the back nine, I had good momentum, and if can keep this momentum tomorrow, I can compete for a win,” said Kim, who ranks top 10 in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green and Putting after three rounds.
Today’s effort was his best showing since winning The American Express in January for his third PGA TOUR victory. He missed three cuts, finished T50 and withdrew after an opening 80 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week after his back tightened up. Hence, he was thrilled with his strong finish, especially with his heroics on 17.
“I just tried to land my ball on green, and not too close to the (front) pin and it passed the hole. I saw the others (putt) pass the hole, so I just tried to have soft touch and hit the ball very gently, and it went into the hole,” said Kim.
“I think conditions are very similar to those when I won here. As I prefer to play on firmer and harder conditions, that would be good for me. If there is more wind tomorrow, it would be good.”
Westwood will reprise his final round shootout against DeChambeau from a week ago which ended with the powerful American winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard last Sunday. He was only one of two players to enjoy a bogey-free card on Saturday as he seeks his third PGA TOUR victory.
He made nine straight pars and then birdied Hole Nos. 10, 12, 16 and 17. “I was playing well all day and trying to be patient and wait for the good things to happen. I missed a few for different reasons and then one went in on 10, so that was kind of the impetus to kick on around the back nine,” said Westwood.
“Obviously 16 is a hole you look at and you think, this is a birdie chance, but 17 to that front flag, especially when it’s stuck at the top of the hill, you’re just trying to run it down there somewhere dead, so it’s a real bonus that it rolled in, and a great moment,” said Westwood, who has played 44 consecutive holes without a bogey.