Feature Photo: John Huh assails the leaderboard on Day 4 of the Wyndham Championship. (Photo courtesy of PGA Tour)

On the first day of the Wyndham Championship, John Huh played the game of his life.

He went 9 under par on the old Donald Ross course at Sedgefield, course, with six birdies on the front 9 and an eagle on the way back in. It was good enough to put him at the top of the leaderboard after the first day of play, and it could not have come at a better time.

Huh — who made Rookie of the Year on both the Korean Tour, in 2010, and the PGA, in 2012 — logged his first and only PGA tournament win 10 years ago by winning a playoff round at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He placed in FedEx Cup rankings for the next seven years, but an injury limited his ability to compete in 2019 and he did not regain his PGA tour card until 2021, after a decent showing at the Korn Ferry Tour, essentially the minor leagues of golf.

His 61 on the first day was just two shy of the Sedgefield tournament course record set in 2018 by Brandt Snedecker, enough to put him in First Place by two strokes. He was as shocked as anyone else.

“I’m actually surprised I’m at the top of the leaderboard, to be quite honest,” Huh said afterwards. “I didn’t really feel my game was there, but it’s one of those days where I took advantage of some good shots and good breaks.”

And he needed it. Bad.

Huh started the week at No. 120 in the FedEx Cup rankings; just the first 125 make it to the playoffs, which means an extended season, a big bump in pay and an assured spot on next year’s PGA Tour. And the Wyndham Championship is the final event of the regular season, the Last Chance Saloon for anyone on or near the bubble.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – AUGUST 07: John Huh of the United States plays a second shot on the ninth hole during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 07, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images)

Like a lot of the players at the Wyndham, John Huh had to be here or risk getting pushed back in the rankings. And after three years on the wrong side of the cut, Huh was ready to come back. And perhaps for the first time in a long time, he suspected he might be able to win the whole thing.

But by the time he teed off shortly after noon on Day 2 of the Wyndham, Huh’s lead had completely evaporated; he was now tied for first at -9, huddled with several other golfers already out on the course including Brandon Wu, Ryan Moore and the Joohyung “Tom” Kim. Huh drove his first shot deep under the grassy lip of a bunker and used a stroke to pop it out. After sinking a bogey putt, he was already down a stroke.

It would take him all day — five birdies, a bogey, a double-bogey and a triple-bogey — to drop to fourth place at -8.

***

By now, days after the Wyndham Championship has ended, everyone who cares about such things knows the story of Joohyung “Tom” Kim, the 20-year-old phenom who blew into the tournament from Korea just a couple weeks earlier on a sponsor’s exemption, who began the tournament with a quadruple bogey on the first hole and went on to win the whole damn thing.

It was dramatic as hell.

But often the real stories at the Wyndham are in the undercard: players on the bubble hoping to boost their careers — and their bank accounts — with a timely application of golf’s most necessary attributes: patience and control.

It’s an opportunity for players to hustle their way into the FedEx rankings, or, conversely, to hold their precarious positions near that magic number of 125. And that’s in a normal year.

Things are skewed in 2022 because of the newly established LIV Golf league, a Saudi Arabian tour with deep pockets that has been poaching players from the PGA. Playing on another tour violates PGA regulations, and many golfers take issue with the nation’s records on human-rights abuses and their sanctioning of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 — this is the league that offered Tiger Woods as much as $800 million to play in their tournaments. Tiger turned them down. In June the PGA suspended 17 players, who were then removed from FedEx rankings and became ineligible for the postseason, creating some space in the playoff picture. Eleven of those players are now suing the PGA, while guys like John Huh, who came in this week ranked at No. 120 are fighting for their taste of the big time.

Just four of the PGA’s Top 25 golfers made it to this year’s Wyndham Championship. The other 150 or so are just looking to make it past Friday, when the field gets cut in half.

“You want to see a grind,” one PGA sideline official tells me, “get out here on Friday afternoon and watch some of those guys who are up against it. Their whole season is on the line.”

John Huh may have been the poster child for this year’s Bubble Boys, but there were also other young players like Brandon Wu (No. 83) and Ryan Moore (No. 196), as well as tour veterans like Stewart Cink (No. 125), Webb Simpson (No. 126) Brian Stuard (No. 148) and Lucas Glover (No. 128).

At No. 15 in the beginning of the week, Sungjae Im was supposed to be on the leaderboard. John Huh not so much. But there they were together at the end of Round 2 tied at fourth place with Russel Henley (No. 42) at -8. Ahead of them were Wu, Kim and Moore. But as the PGA official said, a golf tournament has two parts, before and after the cut: “Thursday-Friday is one tournament,” he said. “Saturday-Sunday is another.”

***

John Huh began Round 3 just after noon at 8 under par, in a diminished field of 87 after everyone under a -1 got cut. Playing in a trio with Im and Henley, all of whom began at -8, Huh makes a birdie at Hole 5 to regain First Place, tied with four others at -9. They hold the position for about two minutes, until Im makes bird on that same hole to go -10.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – AUGUST 07: Brandon Wu of the United States plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 07, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

For Huh, Round 3 was like a seesaw: pickup up a stroke or two then losing it, dancing in and out of the lead as media crews came in and out to sporadically document his moment as the Man to Beat. It lasted until an afternoon storm suspended play, with Huh in Second Place at -11 and Wu and Im sharing the lead at -12.

Huh rode a hot streak on the bifurcated back 9, with birdies on 10 and 11, and then returning on Sunday to add two more on 12 and 15. A bogey on 18 left him at -12, bettering his total by four strokes and leaving him in sole possession of Second Place before Round 4 would begin in just a couple hours.

***

John Huh changed to khakis and a maroon polo for his Sunday round, in a trio with Im, the tournament leader at -13, and Brendan Wu in Third place at -11. None of them knew they’d be upstaged by the most unlikely player in the tournament.

Tom Kim’s Sunday round at the 2022 Wyndham Championship will go down in history: a 20-year-old first-timer playing under a sponsor’s exemption wins the tournament, becoming the second-youngest player ever to win a PGA event in the modern era and the only one in recorded PGA history ever to win an event after shooting a triple-bogey on any hole, let alone the very first one.

He made an eagle and six birdies on the front 9 to secure the win, finishing with a nearly unheard of -20. His score of 61 on Sunday was the talk of Sedgefield, the very same score Huh had posted on Thursday, when he was the Man to Beat.

They say nobody cares about Second Place. But John Huh sure does.

Huh played a heroic round of golf on Sunday, with four birdies and an eagle shaving three strokes off his total to land at -15, tied with Sungjae Im. Brendan Wu, who started the day in Third Place, had the Sunday equivalent of a meltdown, running even for the day and finishing in a tie for Eighth Place with four other golfers.

Still, Wu was able to bump himself up to No. 70 in the FedEx rankings, which was the subtext of the entire affair.

Wyndham’s biggest Bubble Boys included Max McGreevy, who was ranked at 137 the week before the Wyndham and left at 113, eligible for the playoffs, and, of course, the winner himself, who was the only other player to move into the Top 125.

GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – AUGUST 07: Joohyung Kim of Korea poses with the trophy after putting in to win on the 18th green during the final round of the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club on August 07, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Though he was unranked in FedEx Cup points before the weekend, as 2022 Wyndham Champion Jungyae “Tom” Kim landed at No. 35 in FedEx Cup rankings, a sweet spot in the playoff picture.

In that light, John Huh’s run at the 2022 Wyndham Championship will be cast as more of a footnote than a headline. But his game landed him at No. 71 in FedEx Cup rankings, moving him from the back of the pack to the middle of the field in this, his comeback year.

Kim may have earned a spot in the record books, but 10 years after his last PGA Tour win, John Huh was able to land on the right side of the bubble, another kind of victory, to be sure, but just as sweet.

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