Masters 2019: Ten years later, Anthony Kim and his remarkable 11-birdie run at Augusta still has people buzzing
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Augusta National is a place of reverence and remembrance. A decade ago Wednesday, one of the greatest performances in Masters history occurred.
There have been lower scores -- Nick Price and Greg Norman shot course-record 63s, a decade apart, in 1986 and ’96, respectively. There have been more significant rounds -- Jack Nicklaus’ Sunday 65 to win in 1986 at age 46 and Tiger Woods’ Saturday 65 on his way to a romp in 1997, among a handful of others.
None burned hotter and brighter than Anthony Kim’s record 11 birdies in the second round of the 2009 tournament.
“It feels like a 58 right now,” Kim said afterward.
He wasn’t far off.
“I remember coming off the course and saying to someone, ‘He did what?!’” recalls Geoff Ogilvy, who had teed off 2 1/2 hours after Kim that afternoon. “Outrageous score.”
Especially considering the circumstances.
For one, it was the 23-year-old’s first Masters. For another, the day before he opened with a 75 playing alongside fellow rising young stars Rory McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa.
Never mind that early in the week Kim had irked tournament officials by trying to wear his iPhone onto the driving range. Told cell phones weren’t allowed, he argued that he was using it to listen to music and not as a phone. You can guess who won that one.
Then there was the day itself, breezy and conditions difficult. The scoring average for the second round was 74.84, the highest it would be all week. Only 17 players in the field of 96 broke par with just three of them posting a sub-70 score.
Kim’s final tally, a 65, earned him a crystal vase for being the day's best number. But it was how he got there that was so electric.
Teeing off in mid-morning, Kim opened with birdie at the demanding first. Somehow he managed just a par on the par-5 second, though, and bogeyed the par-3 fourth. A modest beginning.
Then Kim ripped off four straight birdies on holes 5 through 8. He started thinking something special might be in the making.
Yes, and no. Kim bogeyed the ninth and followed with double at the 10th. A little over halfway through his round, he had just one par.
But he hit the accelerator again.
After a par at the 11th, Kim birdied 12 and 13 before stuffing a wedge within inches of the hole at 14. It was on. At the par-5 15th, he smoked a 4-iron to 20 feet to set up an easy two-putt birdie, his fourth in a row.
“My buddy and I were following Tiger,” said our own Alex Myers, who was in the crowd as a fan. Woods was playing in the group in front of Kim. “But we liked AK and he just kept hitting darts, so we kept hanging back to see if he would convert. It was an incredible display of ball-striking. I would have bet everything I had at the time he would win at least one Masters.”
After pars at 16 and 17, Kim stuck his approach at the home hole to 12 feet and made the putt to break Price’s birdie record by one and dust McIlroy by eight shots and Ishikawa by a dozen.
“You just don’t do those sort of things here,” said Nick Faldo, who was in the booth for CBS that afternoon, 10 years later. “He didn’t have a clue what he was doing. He was the type of player who stood up there, saw the flag and just went at it.”
Kim went on to finish in a tie for 20th. The following year, another 65, this time on Sunday, led to a third-place finish. Then in 2011, he played his final Masters, missing the cut.
“Crazy aggressive,” says Paul Azinger when describing Kim’s game back then. Azinger captained Kim at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla, where he dismantled Sergio Garcia, 5 and 4, en route to a U.S. victory. “Maybe he played like he knew he wasn’t going to always have these chances.”
Prophetic words. All comets eventually burn out.
Said Faldo: “There was a man with a great swing until …”
Until…poof…he was gone.
After a first-round 74 at the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship, Kim announced that he was taking five months off because of tendinitis in his left arm. Six weeks later he tore his Achilles while working out in San Diego.
His body besieged by injuries and his bank account later the recipient of a reported eight-figure insurance payout, Kim hasn’t been seen since. Save for the occasional charity event appearance, pet store sighting or reports that he was investing in a few Dallas restaurants, he has become a reclusive if not mythical figure.
"Golf is a fond memory of mine,” Kim told the Associated Press in 2015, his first interview in three years, and his last since. “I've been watching more and more. I miss the competition a little bit. Watching these young guys like Jordan Spieth is bringing me back to watch.’'
Kim was something to watch, too. Especially that afternoon.
“I miss Anthony Kim,” said McIlroy. “The tour was a better place with him in it.”
Kim might be gone from the game, but his place in Masters lore lives on.