AUGUSTA • Two Asians making their debuts at the Masters did enough to cheer golf watchers tracking their progress half the world away.
South Korea's Im Sung-jae grabbed a share of second place while Chinese Taipei's C.T. Pan finished in a tie for seventh on Sunday.
Im, 22, demonstrated why there is so much excitement surrounding the rising talent. He finished on 15-under 273 alongside Australian Cameron Smith, five shots behind winner Dustin Johnson, and the result was the best showing by an Asian golfer at Augusta National, improving on South Korean K.J. Choi's third place in 2004.
Described as "way beyond his years" by Justin Thomas earlier this year, the 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year had targeted merely making the cut.
Rounds of 66, 70, 68 and 69 ensured he did much better than that and in doing so became the third-youngest player to notch a top-five finish at the Masters after former champions Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth.
"Finishing tied for second is unbelievable... this is a memorable Masters for me," he said, before analysing the areas where he felt his game let him down as he chased Johnson on the final day.
"My iron accuracy wasn't up to par but I was able to put it in places where I was able to have a good angle of getting close to the hole, so my scrambling was pretty good."
He was also happy with his putting, after resolving some earlier issues.
"Leading up to this week, I struggled with my putting a little bit. So I made a change with my putter, and this week, I putted so well, and that's what made the difference," he said. "I also made some nice approach shots, which led to some good saves. So overall, I'm happy with my approach shots and putting this week."
His finish ensured he will not have to wait long for his second crack when the Masters returns to its regular slot next April.
Also set for a return next year is Pan, who shot an impressive final-round four-under 68, which featured four birdies over his closing six holes, to sign off his week on 10-under 278. It was his best result in 10 Major appearances and also his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour in nearly 18 months.
With his controlled play, even-keeled temperament and hot putter, he navigated his way around Augusta National brilliantly and birdied all the par-fives on Sunday before finishing with a late burst of birdies, highlighted by a monster putt from 28 feet on the par-four 17th hole.
He missed an eight-footer on the last hole but it did not take anything away from a terrific first appearance at the fabled tournament.
Pan, the first Taiwanese golfer to qualify for the Masters since 2009, said: "I just see a lot of good shots out there and played somewhat conservatively, and it panned out. (On) No. 16, I made a long putt, made a downhill 15-footer for birdie, and (on) No. 17 made another 25-footer, so definitely my putting helped me a lot on the back nine.
"The greens are definitely faster, a foot or two faster than previous rounds. Even the greens are kind of soft, but it's very hard to attack, and you definitely need to have good putting out there."
He is already looking forward to next year's appearance, saying: "It feels great. I struggled the whole year, so this is a big step up for me and a big confidence boost.
"As far as this being my first Masters, I enjoyed it very much - T7 in my Masters debut. That means I'll be coming back to Augusta National in April. Can't wait to make the drive up Magnolia Lane in five months."
REUTERS, PGA TOUR