Korea’s Byeong Hun An overcame a three-putt opening bogey to fire an “easy” 7-under 63 for tied second place in the first round of the Wyndham Championship on Thursday.
The 31-year-old, who finished tied third at the Genesis Scottish Open last month, was in top form as he missed only one fairway and one green in regulation at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro to trail leader Russell Henley, who carded a bogey-free 62 in the final event of the PGA TOUR’s 2022-23 Regular Season before the start of the FedExCup Playoffs next week.
Seeking a first PGA TOUR victory, An is already assured of a start in the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of three Playoffs events, but compatriots S.H. Kim and K.H. Lee have a mountain to climb in their bid to extend their season after opening with a 71 and 72 respectively to be outside the projected halfway cut mark.
“It was a rough start. That’s never fun to start with a three-putt, but it’s golf,” said An. “I guess I got it out of the way and the rest of the holes, I hit great drives and good second shots in. Didn’t really have much trouble off the tee, into the greens. It was a very easy and nice 7-under I think.”
He spent last season on the Korn Ferry Tour after losing his PGA TOUR status in 2021 and has returned stronger than ever after putting in the work with swing coach Sean Foley and embarking on a fitness regime which includes punching a boxing bag in garage at home. He has notched three top-10s and eight top-25s this season to be ranked 52nd on the FedExCup points list.
A recent switch to the broomhandle putter – he sought the advice of Adam Scott and Si Woo Kim – has proven to be god-sent as he holed three lengthy birdie putts from over 20 feet on the sixth, 11th and 17th holes. His other gains were from inside of 12 feet, showcasing his flawless ball-striking display, as he bids to become the third Korean winner at the Wyndham Championship after Si Woo Kim (2016) and Tom Kim (2022).
“Game plan, keep it in the fairway and on the greens. I believe I only missed one green. Golf could be so much harder if I’m missing the greens, but 17 greens, that’s the goal if you’re hitting every green. Leave myself in a good spot because there are a lot of slopes on the greens. Just got to give myself better putts and easy putts so I can do it and we’ll see where it goes,” said An, who finished T23 at The Open two weeks ago – his first major appearance in two years.
He finished third at Sedgefield in 2019 after opening with a 62 and reckons he could contend again for a first PGA TOUR victory this weekend. “I like the course. I’ve been playing well over here, had some good finishes. It’s not a bomber’s golf course, you have to keep it in the fairway. The rough is pretty thick and long this week. The greens get pretty quick down here, but overall, I don’t know, I just tend to play well over here,” he said.
China’s Marty Zecheng Dou opened with a 68 while countryman Carl Yuan and Korea’s Sungjae Im carded 69s. C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei and Si Woo Kim returned cards of 70s while rookie Kevin Yu carded a 72.
Four-time TOUR winner Russell Henley snared six birdies and one eagle on the 15th hole from six feet to equal his career low round at Sedgefield en route to his eighth career 18-hole lead/co-lead. “You know, the first little bit of the front nine it was raining and felt like, man, this could be a tough day, especially if it picks up a little bit. So just kind of hoping it would slow down a little bit. And it did on the back nine, so we were fortunate. Just hit a lot of fairways and felt like from there I could attack the golf course,” said the 34-year-old American.