South Korea’s Im leads PGA Tour at Punta Cana

South Korean Im Sung-jae on the way to a second-round 67 and a one-shot lead after 36 holes of the US PGA Tour Corales Puntacana Resort Championship. (AFP pic)

MIAMI: South Korean Im Sung-jae shook off an early double bogey to card a five-under-par 67 and grab a one-shot lead on Friday at the US PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Resort Championship.

Im had a 10-under par total of 137 after two rounds in the Dominican Republic and a one-stroke lead over Australian Aaron Baddeley, Ireland’s Paul Dunne and Americans George McNeill and Jonathan Byrd.

On the eve of his 21st birthday, PGA Tour rookie Im positioned himself for a weekend run at a first tour title.

Ranked 59th in the world, Im is hoping for a performance that will boost him into the top 50 and into the Masters at Augusta National in two weeks.

He teed off on 10 and needed five to get down at the par-three 11th, where he found a greenside bunker.

“After that bad start, my goal was to remain calm throughout the rest of my round,” Im said. “I’m hitting the ball really well, so I think that led to a lot of my birdies.”

Im gathered steam with four birdies before the turn and added four more with one more bogey coming in.

Im has some experienced challengers hot on his heels.

Baddeley, seeking a fifth PGA Tour title, strung together five of his seven birdies in a row from the third through the seventh holes and had reached 10-under for the tournament before a bogey at 15.

He finished with a five-under 67 for a nine-under total of 135.

He was joined there by McNeill – who had seven birdies without a bogey in his 65 – plus Dunne, who also shook off a double-bogey on the way to a three-under 69, and Byrd, who had five birdies without a bogey in his 67.

Byrd goes into the weekend seeking a sixth US PGA Tour title, but his first since the 2011 Tournament of Champions.

Baddeley, who finished tied for second at the Puerto Rico Open in February, said he was enjoying his first appearance in this tournament, played opposite the elite WGC-Match Play Championship.

“Everything is calm, it’s relaxed, very laid back,” he said, likening it to Puerto Rico.

Thursday and Friday were no holiday, however, for former NFL Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who followed up his first-round 79 with an 80 to bring his challenge on a sponsor’s exemption to a close.