Korea’s An finishes T16 as leading Asian at the Masters

Hun AnKorea’s Byeong Hun An posted his best Masters Tournament finish with a tied 16th on Sunday but was left ruing a cold putter which saw him miss out on an automatic return to Augusta National by a single stroke.

The 32-year-old signed off on his fifth appearance at the year’s opening major with a 3-over 75 where his scorecard included a mix of five birdies, six bogeys and a double bogey. The top-12 finishers and ties earn invitations back to next year’s Masters.

“First two days were great. Obviously, the weekend was a little disappointing. I feel like my ball striking was there, but putting let me down. Yesterday I could have had six more birdies, a lot more pars … same today. It was very disappointing to finish this way. I've got to figure something out. It's golf,” said An, who finished T33 in 2017 for his previous best result at Augusta National.

The only consolation for An was he emerged as the highest placed Asian finisher at the Masters, which was won by World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. The in-form American triumphed by four strokes over debutant Ludvig Aberg following a 68 for his second green jacket in three years, and also his third tournament victory on the PGA TOUR in his last four starts.

Tom Kim fired the day’s lowest of 66, highlighted by eight birdies, to share 30th place with amongst others, compatriot Si Woo Kim, who signed off with a 70 in what was his eighth successive Masters appearance. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the lone Asian to win the Masters in 2021, closed with a 74 for tied 38th.

A missed drive on his opening hole which led to a bogey was a sign of things to come for An as he failed to find his mark with his broomstick putter, which has so often been reliable this season. Another errant tee shot on the tricky par-3 12th where his ball landed in the shrubs saw him stagger off the green with his only double bogey of the week. He three-putted the 16th and 17th greens for bogeys, before finding his range from 15 feet on the last for a closing birdie.

“I feel like all the game's there, short game's there, ball striking's there,:” said An, who drops one rung to eighth in the latest FedExCup points list. “It's kind of disappointing to have this kind of play on the greens.

“Overall, it's the Masters. I'm playing on Sunday. It was great. Hopefully I can come back next year.”

With Sungjae Im, who missed the halfway cut on Friday, being the fourth Korean in this year’s elite field, An believes it is a good indicator of the growing strength of Korean golf, and anticipates the day when a Korean player will don the green jacket afforded to the winner.

“Yeah, there should be more (in the Masters). I mean, four is great, but I feel like there're many great players that can play into this event. You definitely will see more in the future. There're still a lot of guys playing on the PGA TOUR who could have made it here. Four is a decent number, but hopefully we can get the win one day,” An said.

Making his second straight start after a T16 in his debut last season, Tom Kim came alive with a birdie barrage as he finished in the middle of the pack following his 66. “For me, I made the cut on the number. I didn't really have a good moving day. I just came out here just trying to make it as stress-free as possible, and I did, and just got lucky with a good round there,” said the three-time PGA TOUR winner.

He is hoping the strong finish will help turn his season around where he has yet to enjoy a top-10, let alone get into contention for another win. “That's definitely a good momentum thing that I can go into next week, and to kind of see a good round like this in a major and at Augusta, I haven't really had the best of starts, and to see this round and see the hard work pay off, it's good,” said Tom, who will tee up in the RBC Heritage starting Thursday.

Like An, Tom anticipates more Koreans emerging in the coming years. “I think a lot of us are playing really consistent. I think with how good the Korean players are, I think all four could have made the cut easily. We've got a lot of good players, and I think it's definitely getting a lot more competitive. I think us playing well is definitely inspiring the next generation to come to the PGA TOUR and to play events like this because no matter what tour comes along, you can't beat traditions like the Masters and the four major championships,” he said.