Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 31, 2011

Anthony Kim’s Comeback Stalls Again

At the start of Sunday’s final round, the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic was Anthony Kim’s to lose. He began play Sunday afternoon at 10 under par and with a one stroke lead over Tour rookie Scott Stallings. Kim was also one of just three players in the field with a chance to post four rounds in the 60’s on the par-70 Old White TPC course at the famed West Virginia resort. That in itself was a far cry from the tournament’s inaugural in 2010, when Stuart Appleby won with a 22 under par total that included a closing round of 59. After the pros made the nearly century old course look like a pitch and putt, all 18 greens were rebuilt, fairways were narrowed, and the course was lengthened by 200 yards.

After just one hole Kim’s lead had doubled, as he made par on the 449 yard first while Stallings opened with a bogey. For the 26-year old Kim, a return to the winner’s circle for the first time in more than a year would have capped a comeback from a 2010 season that was largely lost due to injury. When he won the Shell Houston Open in April of last year he became just the fifth player in the last three decades to post three PGA Tour wins before the age of 25. But less than a month later he had surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb. While he tried to come back later in the season with hopes of either playing his way onto or becoming a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team, his results were inconsistent at best.

That streakiness continued into this year. Coming into the Greenbrier, Kim had made just 12 cuts in 21 events, and had just two top-ten finishes. His stroke average of 71.53 was the highest of his career. In an interview prior to the final round Kim acknowledged the importance of winning again, saying “I think it would actually mean more than any of the other wins I’ve had just because of the fact that I’ve come back from something.”

At 3 p.m. as he held onto his two-stroke lead while continuing to record pars on the front nine, it looked like Anthony Kim would indeed complete his comeback. But by 6 p.m. the final round at the Greenbrier was just another lost Sunday for a golfer whose promise continues to exceed his results.

After recording sixteen birdies through the first three rounds, including eight in a bogey-free third round of 62, Kim failed to play a single hole under par on Sunday. After starting with seven consecutive pars, he three-putted the par-3 eighth hole from 50 feet to drop to minus nine. Then on the par-4 ninth he drove deep into the left rough, leaving himself with no chance to reach the green in regulation. Forced to punch out with his second, he played an indifferent pitch shot to the green from sixty yards with his third. Two putts later he was two over par for the day and no longer leading the tournament. Kim would add two more bogies at the thirteenth and fifteenth holes, finishing with a 74, four shots behind a three-way tie at the top of the leaderboard.

The disappointing Sunday came a week after Kim was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Canadian Open. That was after a second round 81 that ensured he wouldn’t be playing the weekend anyway. On the other hand, one week earlier Kim had made the most of getting into the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s as an alternate by finishing fifth; and for three rounds in West Virginia this week his play was scintillating.

Unfortunately for Kim, the weekly stops on the PGA Tour are four rounds long, and his hot and cold play leaves him unable to close out a win. He was once tabbed by many as the next big star of the Tour, and with good reason. He burst onto the scene with a second place finish in his very first PGA event in 2006, raced up the Official World Golf Rankings with four top-ten finishes in 2007, won twice in 2008, was a stalwart on the U.S. Ryder Cup team that year and the President’s Cup team in 2009, and then won again early last year. Along the way he overcame what he has readily admitted was a propensity to party more than practice when he first joined the Tour. While the thumb injury can readily explain his mediocre play last year, the surgery is now more than a year in the past.

There’s obviously plenty of time for Kim to recapture his complete game and win tournaments and majors. But while he continues to come up short, more and more of his contemporaries are carving their names into the record books. Until Darren Clarke reasserted the prerogatives of an older generation two weeks ago at the Open Championship, all four major titles were held by international stars in their twenties. Among young American stars, Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan are winning tournaments and threatening at majors; and one has the sense that when 22-year old Rickie Fowler inevitably breaks through for his first PGA Tour win the floodgates could open on his career. Meanwhile potential future stars are emerging at a remarkable clip. That list now includes Kim’s Sunday playing partner, 26-year old Scott Stallings, who rallied from a 4-over front nine to shoot 31 on the back, then birdied the first playoff hole to become the sixth Tour rookie to win this year. So yes there’s still time, but with each disappointing Sunday the incandescence that marked Anthony Kim’s first years on Tour fades just a little bit more.

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