Si Woo Kim holds off Cantlay to win The American Express

Full Screen
1 / 7

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Si Woo Kim hits from the first fairway during the final round of The American Express golf tournament on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, in La Quinta, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Si Woo Kim left the Coachella Valley a year ago with his back aching again and his game in disarray.

The 25-year-old South Korean returned this week with a healthy back and a rock-solid mentality that didn't even waver when Patrick Cantlay threatened to run away with The American Express.

Kim birdied two of the final three holes to finish an 8-under 64 Sunday, coolly rallying past the late-charging Cantlay by one shot to earn his third PGA Tour victory.

A year after Kim shot a 15-over 87 in the first round and quickly withdrew from this event because of his persistent back problems, he began the final round with a share of the lead atop a crowded board. He endured a restless night as he prepared to chase his first win since the 2017 Players Championship, a string of 102 straight starts without a victory.

“Every year, I've had a chance, but I couldn’t make it,” Kim said through a translator. “I had a lot of resolve in my mind last night. I took melatonin, but still I didn’t sleep very well.”

Kim acknowledged he watched the leaderboard while he played. Six groups ahead of him, Cantlay shot a 61 and surged out of 13th place to the front while breaking the Stadium Course record by two strokes.

“I had to know what’s going on, so I knew how to play my game in the final round,” Kim said. “I knew Cantlay played really well. I tried to keep patient and believe in myself. I got the chance on 16 and 17, and that’s when I could make it. I feel good about myself.”

Cantlay's surge still only put him one stroke in the lead, and Kim comfortably birdied the par-5 16th to pull even. Kim then buried a 19-foot birdie putt on the island green on the 17th to move back in front, joyously pumping his fist when his perfectly paced putt dropped.