Where EAST meets the Northwest
REMARKABLE COMEBACK. Tiger Woods reacts after winning the
Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Tony Finau. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Si Woo Kim. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #09 (May 6, 2019), pages 8 & 9.
Three top-five finishes highlight a strong Asian year at the
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
The Masters Tournament at Augusta is the most prestigious event in the
Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour. Each year, it features more and
more prominent Asian and Asian-American golfers, but for many years, only one
golfer with Asian roots had ever won the Masters, and two others had finished in
the top five.
This year, however, golfers with eastern heritage did incredibly well,
including two top-five finishes and a victory by Tiger Woods. Much has been
written about the remarkable comeback by Woods, whose mother has Chinese and
Thai roots. But plenty of other golfers with Asian heritage had strong finishes
Take Si Woo Kim, the 23-year-old South Korean who made his third appearance
at the Masters after bouncing on and off the PGA Tour. After qualifying for the
PGA Tour in 2013 at age 17, Kim lost his qualification after missing six
Kim fought his way back to the tour in 2016 but failed to make the cut in his
first Masters in 2017. Unfazed, he won the Players Championship a month later,
becoming the tournament’s youngest winner ever. And then at the 2018 Masters,
Kim made the cut, finishing in a tie for 24th place.
This year, Kim shot 5-under at Augusta to tie for 21st place, thanks in part
to his putting ability — he currently ranks third in putting average on the PGA
Tour. With his skills and age, you can expect to hear plenty more about Kim in
Kim might aspire to the performance of Tony Finau, the Tongan-Samoan golfer
who always shines during the Masters. Finau joined the tour in 2015 and won his
first event in 2016. He finished in a tie for 10th in his very first Masters in
2018, playing on a gimpy ankle.
On two healthy ankles, Finau did even better this year, starting with a 71
and 70 on the first two days and rising to 16th place. Then he rocketed into
contention with a 64 on Saturday, shooting four birdies on the first six holes
and an eagle on the eighth.
This great performance put him two shots off the lead and in the final
grouping with Woods and tournament leader Francesco Molinari. All three stayed
close in score until the 12th hole, when Molinari and Finau both hit their tee
shots into the water, but Woods hit his onto the green. This changed the
momentum of the tournament, allowing Woods to pull ahead for the win while
Molinari and Finau slipped into a tie for fifth.
Tied with them was Jason Day, formerly the top golfer in the world. Day, who
has family roots in the Philippines, battled a torn disc in his back that had
flared up the day before the tournament. He managed to start on Thursday, but
his back seized up again on the course, requiring treatment, but he worked past
the pain to shoot a 70.
Day got even better on Friday, carding a 67 that vaulted him into a tie for
first, but a 73 on Saturday dropped him back. Instead of flagging, however, Day
rallied by birdieing six holes on Sunday against one bogey to rise to fifth,
tying Molinari, Finau, and Webb Simpson.
Further down Augusta’s final standings were four promising young Japanese
golfers, one receiving the tournament’s only special invitation. The top player
on the Japan Golf Tour last year, 26-year-old Shigo Imahira didn’t quite rank
high enough in the world rankings to qualify for the Masters, so he was extended
a special invitation. He played fairly well, but carding a 76 on Thursday and 74
on Friday meant he missed the cut.
Faring much better than Imahira were his three countrymen: Takumi Kanaya,
Hideki Matsuyama, and Satoshi Kodaira. Kodaira and Matsuyama qualified for the
Masters based on their world rankings and strong PGA Tour performances.
Twenty-year-old Kanaya qualified after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur
Championship. Kanaya qualified after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur
Championship. He became one of four amateurs to make this year’s cut, shooting a
combined three over par on Thursday and Friday. Kanaya carded a 68 on Saturday,
but a 74 on the final day dropped him down to a tie for 58th place.
Kanaya still finished a stroke ahead of Kodaira, who played well on Friday
and Saturday but framed those performances with a 75 on Thursday and 76 on
Sunday. Kanaya’s finish was an incredible debut for an amateur on golf’s biggest
stage, but Matsuyama had done even better in his own amateur debut in 2011.
That first year, Matsuyama carded a one-under to tie for 27th place, but he
did even better in 2015, finishing in fifth place with an 11-under. This was his
best finish at Augusta, but he also tied for seventh in 2016, 11th in 2017, and
19th in 2018.
This experience helped Matsuyama recover from a rough Thursday to shoot a 70
on Friday, a 68 on Saturday, and 72 on Sunday to tie him for 32nd place. While
respectable for most other golfers, this Masters finish was Matsuyama’s worst
since missing the cut in 2014.
Other notable Asian golfers also performed respectably at Augusta. Kiradech
Aphibarnrat, the first Thai golfer to qualify for the PGA Tour, carded a strong
69 on the first day but shot four-over the rest of the way to finish tied for
49th place. China’s Haotong Li is only 23 years old, but he finished in 32nd
place in his Masters debut last season after starting strong but fading down the
stretch. This year, Li did the opposite, starting slowly and ending with a 68 to
tie for 43rd.
Once, just reaching the Masters, whether via qualification or special
invitation, was a victory for golfers from the east. But today, that’s no longer
good enough as Asian and Asian-American golfers continue to climb the ladder.
With so many players getting so close to victory, it won’t be long until another
golfer with Asian roots dons the green jacket given to those who win at Augusta.
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