S. Korean An Byeong-hun at top of PGA Tour leaderboard after 'strange day'
Jay Yim, Oct. 17, 2019, 9:23 a.m.
In the days leading up to the PGA Tour's CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges on home soil this week, South Korean An Byeong-hun was worried about his ball striking. He wasn't hitting crisp shots in his practice rounds earlier this week, and it didn't get much better on the range Thursday morning, hours before he teed off at the Club at Nine Bridges in Jeju Island.
But soon enough, An got his groove back. He birdied two of the first four holes en route to a bogey-free round of 64, which put him alone at the top.
"I had great distance control with my shots, and gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities," An said at his post-round press conference. "As my score indicates, the wind didn't blow as hard as the past two years. It changed directions at times but it didn't cause any great difficulties."
The 7,241-yard course can be ripe for some low scores in conditions as benign and gentle as Thursday's. Including An, 28 of 78 players scored in the 60s, and 47 shot under par.
An said he is always bracing himself for blustery conditions in Jeju, adding that maintaining composure would be crucial in those circumstances.
"I won't have to panic just because it starts blowing hard," An said. "I just have to play with patience and think I won't pick up eight birdies every round. Golf is not an easy game."
An is the 2015 European Tour Rookie of the Year seeking his first PGA Tour win. He has contended a few times but has stumbled down the stretch. An said he doesn't dwell on those close calls and he isn't putting pressure on himself to win.
"When I look back on the tournaments where I came up short, I feel it just wasn't my time to win and I wasn't yet ready to win," An said. "Obviously, I'd love to win someday and I know I am capable of winning. Things don't always go the way I want them to in this game. But I know I'll have an opportunity to win if I can strike the ball and putt well."
A win this week should bolster An's case for inclusion on the International Team at the Presidents Cup, a biennial match play competition pitting the U.S. against a team of non-European international players. Eight players have been automatically chosen based on their world rankings and International Team's captain Ernie Els will make four additional selections on Nov. 4.
"I think I should be able to make the team if I win this week," An said. "I was really disappointed to have missed out on the last two Presidents Cups, and I'd love to make the team this time. But there's a lot of golf left. If I keep playing the way I did today, I should have a chance to win."