GREENSBORO, N.C. – Si Woo Kim was dialed in with his irons at Sedgefield Country Club on Saturday. He made an ace at the par-3 third hole to assume the lead and nearly made a second hole-in-one at the 12th, settling for a tap-in birdie to regain the lead en route to a two-stroke advantage heading into the final round of the Wyndham Championship.
Kim, 25, signed for an 8-under 62 and is in the pole position at a course where he has fond memories of winning his first PGA Tour title in 2016.
“I feel like pretty similar this year,” he said. “Driving, every shot fairway, and then every shot close to pin, every putt, make the putt.”
Kim jumped in front at the third hole when his 8-iron from 161 yards took one hop and disappeared in the hole for an ace. From the tee, Kim could only tell that it was close and his reaction was noticeably subdued.
“If number’s good, that would be good. I (did) not expect that ace, but some guys yelling (at) me and I feel like just tap-in, really close, and some TV guys told me that’s ace and I was so excited,” said Kim, who is making his 10th straight start since the resumption of the Tour season in June.
At the 196-yard 12th hole, Kim’s 5-iron pitched a foot in front of the hole and lipped out, stopping 14 inches away. This time, he reacted, throwing up his arms as if to say, “C’mon, man.”
“Just little missed right, but that was a really tough hole and really thankful made that birdie,” he said.
Kim, whose other victory was at the 2017 Players Championship, had 11 birdie putts inside 10 feet on the day and tacked on three birdies in a row beginning at 15 to improve to 18-under 192 and move two clear of Rob Oppenheim and Doc Redman.
But playing in this Nascar-crazed state, the South Korean is going to have to keep his foot on the pedal in what is setting up to be a sprint to the finish at the regular season finale of the 2019-20 season. For the third straight day, preferred lies were utilized due to wet conditions. Ball-in hand combined with receptive greens, accessible hole locations and slower green speeds left Sedgefield CC vulnerable and the pros took advantage. Zach Johnson and Jim Herman shot 61s, Kim and Oppenheim had 62 and Redman had a 63.
Oppenheim and Redman, who practiced together earlier this week at Old Chatham in nearby Raleigh, are both bidding for their first wins. Oppenheim, 40, turned professional 18 years ago, didn’t earn his PGA Tour card until five years ago, and has played in every Tour event that he’s been eligible for.
“You can’t do this as long as I have without loving it,” he said after bettering his career low by two strokes despite a bogey at 18.
He entered the week No. 145 in the FedEx Cup standings, but is now one of three players projected to leap into the top 125 (along with Johnson and Peter Malnati; Russell Knox, Charl Schwartzel and Fabian Gomez would drop out). He’s never qualified for the Playoffs, which begin next week at TPC Boston, not far from where he grew in Andover, Massachusetts, and where he made his Tour debut in 2006. He called earning a spot in the Northern Trust field, which is limited to the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings after this week, his main goal at the beginning of the season. This is old hat for Oppenheim – Bubble Boy has got to be his nickname,” declared PGA Tour XM Radio’s John Rollins.
“It’s what we play for, to kind of put ourselves in these situations and see how you handle it. I haven’t been in this situation, I’ve never been in one of the last two or three groups on Sunday, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve been fighting to keep my job or trying to get out here,” said Oppenheim, whose best career finish in 76 Tour starts is T-8 at the 2017 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Redman, 22, won the 2017 U.S. Amateur and is a native Tarheel, who was state 4A champion as a high school senior, and is looking to become the third North Carolinian to win the Wyndham Championship in the last six years. He made his only bogey of the tournament at the first hole of the third round before carding four birdies on each side and equaling his career low on Tour.
With so many young, talented players on Tour, including last week’s major champion Collin Morikawa, Redman’s name can get lost in the shuffle in the discussion of young guns. He offered a simple game plan to follow Sunday in order to hoist his first Tour trophy.
“I think just allowing myself to play great, not letting myself get ahead of myself,” he said. “Just kind of trust myself and see what happens.”
Kim also has a couple of savvy veterans who know a thing or two about swooping in from behind to steal a title on payday. Five-time Tour winner Billy Horschel posted a 65, his 22nd consecutive round of par or better here, and trails by three. Seeking his third win of the season, Webb Simpson, the 2011 Wyndham champion and runner-up a year ago, matched Horschel’s 65, but they lost ground as five of the top eight players on the leaderboard either set or tied their career low rounds on the Tour.
“It’s probably the best I’ve played in a long time,” said Simpson, who enters the final round five back in a tie for seventh. “I just didn’t capitalize when I needed to.”
With overnight showers expected, Sedgefield Country Club should be there for taking again during the final round. When asked how low he would need to go on Sunday, Kim said, “Maybe a lot, but I don’t want to think about the score because if I think (that) I have to shoot 6 under, 7 under, that’s too much pressure. Just keep my playing and then hopefully, yeah, go low.”