The duo trail co-first round leaders Rory McIlroy, Sam Burns and World No. 1 and defending champion Jon Rahm by three shots at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills in Maryland and remained on track to qualify for the TOUR Championship in Atlanta next week.
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Korea’s K.H. Lee and Si Woo Kim, the other Asian golfers remaining in the Playoffs, shot rounds of 69 and 74 respectively to be in danger of being eliminated. Only the top-30 will advance into the Season Finale at East Lake Golf Club with a chance to win the TOUR’s ultimate prize, the FedExCup which offers golf’s richest purse of $15 million to the champion.
Matsuyama, the reigning Masters champion, opened with a bogey but his game clicked into gear soon after where he responded with five birdies on his outward nine to turn in 32 before adding a sixth birdie on Hole No. 17.
“I feel like I got off to a pretty good start and hope it continues on,” said the 29-year-old, whose current 16th place ranking on the FedExCup should easily see him qualifying for his eighth successive TOUR Championship.
After becoming Japan’s first male Major champion in April, Matsuyama has found form at the right time of the season where he lost in a playoff for the Olympic Games bronze medal in Tokyo and in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational earlier this month. His form is not the only thing which was getting hot as playing conditions reached a high of nearly 34 degrees Celsius on Thursday.
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“It’s hot again this week and after playing the Olympics and St. Jude in similar conditions it’d be nice to say we’re used to this, but it was pretty rough out there,” said the six-time PGA Tour winner, who hit nine fairways and 14 greens in regulation.
Smooth-swinging Im entered the week in 25th place on the FedExCup standings and produced an eagle, four birdies and one bogey to put himself in a good position for a third successive appearance in Atlanta. The highlight of his round was an eagle two on the fifth when he hit the green with a mighty 330 yard drive and then drained a six-footer.
“I started well and kept my momentum throughout the round. I’m happy with this good start. This is a new course to us but during the practice round, my caddie and I felt we could have good scores here. If I can continue to focus on my game, I think I can play well through the weekend,” said Im, who finished T16 in last week’s first Playoffs event, THE NORTHERN TRUST.
“If I can continue with this good form, it could get me into the TOUR Championship. I was pleased with my all-round game which felt good today.”
Kim, a three-time Tour winner, pencilled down three birdies against as many bogeys and one double for his 74 while Lee, who broke through for his first win this season, was 4-under through 11 holes before signing for a 69. They entered the week in 33rd and 37th position respectively on the FedExCup standings.