2021 Shriners Children’s Open leaderboard, grades: Sungjae Im holds off Matthew Wolff for second PGA Tour win

It got late early at the Shriners Children’s Open on Sunday as there was more drama over whether the winner would shoot 59 than there was over who would finish with the lowest score this week. Sungjae Im blew away the top of the leaderboard with a 9-under 62 in the finale to shoot 24 under for the week and secure the second PGA Tour victory of his career.

Im shot 30 on the front nine to race out in front of a group of five golfers that started the day in front of him on the board, and after he birdied the first four on the second nine, golf’s magic number seemed like a surer bet in Las Vegas than anyone other than Im winning this golf tournament. Im cruised to the house with five straight pars, and though he didn’t truly threaten 59, I’m sure he’s fine with an outcome that includes beating runner-up Matthew Wolff by four (and the rest of the strongest field of the PGA Tour season by five or more).

When asked about why everything was so flawless on Sunday when Im ranked in the top five in both iron play and putting and shot the round of the day by a stroke over Marc Leishman and Hayden Buckley, Im was succinct.

“It worked as I wanted it to,” he told Golf Channel of his game.

If only this sport was always so simple.

For Im, at times, it has been. The 23-year-old will again move into the top 25 in the world where he has resided for most of the last two years. However, since his first-third finish at the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational at the beginning of 2020, he has not won as much as he would have liked. Plenty of top 10s and some nice showings at the major championships (including a T2 at the 2020 Masters behind Dustin Johnson), but a player of Im’s caliber is hunting wins like he found on Sunday.

“It was very tough to get my first win, but I felt like the second one was harder and harder,” Im said through a translator Sunday. “I kept my patience and I tried to stay composed. I’m glad it came.”

What comes next will be interesting. Golf Channel analyst Trevor Immelman, who will be Im’s captain on the International team at the Presidents Cup next year, said he thinks he has the talent to get to No. 1 in the world. That’s a lofty prize, but weeks like this one make you believe. The key for him will be replication. Can you finish in the top 10 in six out of seven events? Can you do it in three of four majors? That’s No. 1 in the world-type stuff.

Regardless, that’s what’s next. For now, Im stands alone in Vegas as the undisputed champ at TPC at Summerlin. His gifts are obvious in weeks like this one, and his relative youth can convince you that there’s still room for growth. That’s exciting to think about because of just how good he looked in a field filled with Ryder Cuppers and major champions. Im stood out among them and stood alone at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the Shriners Children’s Open.

Matthew Wolff (2nd): This was such an encouraging outing from Wolff after pure futility for nearly a year. There was some symmetry this week, too. Wolff lost in a playoff at this very tournament last year, and then he didn’t finish in the top 10 of any tournament for the next 18 in a row before his runner-up finish this week. Wolff has, at various times, cited that he’s not been having fun and has been struggling mentally so it was great to not only see him finish in the top 10 from tee to green this week but also to see quotes like this one from earlier in the week. 

“Working on the right stuff now, sticking to the process, and just feel like I’m in a really good spot, not only physically, but mentally as well,” Wolff said. “Just having a lot better time out there, being happy and enjoying myself.” Grade: A+

Sam Burns (T14): Is Burns turning into a star this fall? After winning last week at the Sanderson Farms Championship, he followed up that performance with another best-in-class showing this week. He only finished T14 on the leaderboard, but he was top five in this field from tee to green and could have truly contended with an average putting performance. That’s top-25 finishes in each of his last six starts dating back to the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, and Burns is setting the table for what could be a monstrous spring run for him as he tries to ascend into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings (currently 18th before the Shriners). Grade: A-

Brooks Koepka (T67): As arguably the biggest talent in the tournament, it was disconcerting to see Koepka shoot 3 over on the weekend at a course that was spitting out 4 under as an average weekend score. Koepka struggled with the driver a bit on both days, and he lived up to his pre-tournament billing of either finishing in the top seven or barely finishing outside of last. This is now his 17th tournament in his last 20 in which he’s either finished T7 or better or T50 or worse (including missed cuts and WDs). It’s an oddity that he’s been, well, oddly consistent about over the last year. Grade: D

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