AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — It used to be hard to see anything but Anthony Kim’s brashness in the glare of that rhinestone-studded belt buckle.
On Sunday, all anyone noticed was his prodigious talent.
Kim made a late charge at the Masters on Sunday, playing a four-hole stretch in only 12 shots to get within two of the lead. But, playing four groups in front of Phil Mickelson, he ran out of holes. Stashed away in the locker room by Masters officials and hoping for a playoff, Kim could only watch as Mickelson birdied 15 to secure his third green jacket.
Still, Kim’s 65 was the best score of the tournament and earned him third place. At 276, he was four strokes behind Mickelson and one behind Lee Westwood.
“I knew I was coming from pretty far back and Phil’s obviously playing great and Lee was playing well,” Kim said. “But I grinded. I hung in there and I’m proud of the way I stuck it out.”
The 24-year-old Kim has emerged as one of the tour’s more appealing personalities the last few years. A street-smart kid from Los Angeles, he’s got as much in common with the hip-hop generation as he does the well-heeled golf set. He delighted U.S. fans at the Ryder Cup two years ago, refusing to concede anything and revving the crowd up like it was a football game.
And, there’s that belt buckle. Rhinestones surround the letters “AK” – blinding if the light hits it just right. Suffice it to say, the tie-wearing Sam Snead never imagined that kind of accessory.
On the PGA Tour since 2007, Kim has already won three times, including last week after a playoff in Houston. His game can be as edgy as his fashion choices, and it can cost him big. He hit only nine of 14 fairways for a second straight day Sunday, and finishing at 59 percent.
“I’m going to have to start hitting the ball in the fairway,” he said. “I think I heard some stat that I was last in driving again, and that’s not really a stat you want to be last at, when it really does give you a huge advantage out here to be in the fairway. So I’m going to work on that and see if I can’t come back next year and improve on what I did this year.”
Because his drives so often take him to unusual places, Kim goes for shots other players don’t even try. When he pulls them off, though, don’t get in his way. Despite finding sand with both his drive and second shot on 18, he scraped out a par with a 15-foot putt.
He knocked a tough chip shot to within 18 feet on 13, and made it for the birdie. He made a 6-footer for another birdie on 14, and rolled in a putt from 15 feet to eagle No. 15. Then, getting an assist from playing partner Y.E. Yang, he birdied 16.
“I saw he just missed it on the high side with a little too much speed,” Kim said. “So I played it with a little less speed and higher to the right and cashed it.”
But his run would end there.
“Just know that even without my best stuff I hung in there and I made some putts, I made some things happen,” Kim said. “I feel like if I get the ball in the fairway, this is a great golf course for me.”
Kim is still bothered by the torn ligament in his left thumb that caused him problems last year, and it has started to affect his swing. While surgery is a last resort, he said he knows he needs to find some solution.
Because he also knows he can contend with the best of them.
“The attitude I had, the mindset I was in last week (in Houston) really helped me this week. I feel like I’ve actually gotten over a little hump in my golf career when I felt like things were stalling,” Kim said. “I know now that with my attitude, if I can just get my ball-striking to what it was, I’m going to be at a different level.”