Kim tops Wog for AZ Stroke Play title

C.J. Kim of Chandler came up big when it counted Sunday, a clutch performance that earned him the Arizona Stroke Play Championship and kept alive an uncanny streak in this tournament that dates back to 2007.

Kim, whose one-over-par 71 was good enough to edge Scottsdale’s Michel Wog by a single shot, became the sixth straight Hamilton High School student or alum to win this major championship sponsored by the Arizona Golf Association. He follows his former Huskie teammates Andrew Yun (2007, 2009) and Chan Kim (2008, 2010), as well as Peter Koo, who was a 15-year-old freshman at the Chandler school when he prevailed last year.

“I’m proud to keep it going, to win the sixth in a row for our school,’’ said Kim, who turns 21 in two weeks. “I had some great putts (to save par) there at the end. But, man, I missed a lot of putts, too.’’

So did everyone else, with scores that were unusually high for the final round, as well as most of the tournament in general. In fact, there were only eight sub-par rounds recorded at the TPC Scottsdale’s Champions Course for the entire week, as blustery conditions and demanding pin placements had the state’s top amateurs playing a guessing game.

Kim’s winning total of 7-over-par 288 was believed to be the highest aggregate since this tournament moved permanently to the TPC five years ago. But the former University of Denver player didn’t seem to mind, especially after he made a brilliant save for par out of the woods on the 17th hole followed by what would normally have been a knee-knocking 10-footer for par on the 18th.

“I didn’t know that putt on the last hole was to win,’’ confessed Kim, who had shared the lead going into the last 18 holes, with Wog four shots back.

“(In retrospect) I’m probably glad I didn’t know.’’

For Wog, it was a third consecutive runner-up finish in an AGA major. Earlier this year, he was the runner-up in the Arizona Publinks Championship, and last summer he was the runner-up in the Arizona Amateur.
“This seems to be a recurring theme in my life,’’ quipped Wog, 30, whose final-round 68 was the day’s best score by two shots. “Hey, that’s three near-misses in a row. One more and maybe I’ll get the ‘runner-up grand slam.’ ’’

Four shots off the pace in a tie for third place were Mesa Red Mountain High teammates Brett Wilson (74) and Kolton Lapa. (75) Lapa had been tied for the lead with Kim entering the final round.

Another shot back was Arizona State freshman Cameron Palmer (75) followed by Koo (70), who rallied for sixth place.

The final round came down to basically the top four finishers. But Lapa was gone from the get-go as he made double bogey on his first hole and four more bogeys on the front side before righting the ship on the back.
Wilson actually took the lead briefly with his second birdie of the day at the 10th hole. But it was short-lived as a double bogey at the 13th sent him into a tailspin that included bogeys on four of his last five holes.

That boiled it down to Kim and Wog, and while both players missed a lot of potential birdies coming down the stretch, Kim made the putts when it counted most. He also had one other thing working for him, an intangible that is often critical to any victory.

“I got lucky on the 17th when she (Lapa’s caddie) found my ball,’’ Kim said of his errant second shot at the par 5 that disappeared into the brush and eucalyptus trees that run along the TPC’s creek bed.  “Otherwise, that could have been real trouble.’’

Kim, who plans to turn pro in the fall when he’ll enter PGA Tour qualifying school, said he felt there were two other factors that helped him extend Hamilton’s dynasty and capture “my biggest win so far.’’

“(Saturday) was key, because I shot 69 in some bad weather, and that turned out to be huge,’’ said Kim, who played on four straight high school championship teams for the Huskies beginning in 2007, twice winning Division 1 medalist honors.

“And today, well, it was not so much my score but the fact that I avoided making any really big mistakes. That helped a lot, too.’’

No kidding. As it turned out the 2012 Arizona Stroke Play Championship was like the TV series “Survivor,’’ and nobody did it better than Kim.