- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2008

Golf’s second coming arrived at Congressional on Sunday afternoon.

There was a certain beautiful symmetry to the conclusion of the second edition of the AT&T National. When tournament host Tiger Woods limped into the San Diego sunset after last month’s U.S. Open, questions arose concerning who would emerge to fill the game’s marquee void.

Fate certainly has thrust forward a fairly obvious leading candidate.

Anthony Kim took yet another step toward superstardom Sunday at Congressional, authoring a bogey-free, final-round 65 to notch the second victory of what is starting to look like a bellwether season for both the game and its 23-year-old prodigy.

“I think any time there’s a younger guy that plays good, there’s always a little bit of buzz that’s created,” said Kim, who finished with a 12-under 268 on the 7,204-yard, par-70 layout, two strokes clear of Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson. “People are looking and hoping to find the guy that’s going to challenge Tiger. Right now, he’s obviously injured and not going to be out here, but it’s a time for the younger guys to step up and make a statement.”

Mission accomplished. The charismatic Kim unquestionably made a statement during Sunday’s finale, breaking out a flashy, new, diamond-studded version of his signature “AK” belt buckle and then breaking out the whooping stick on the field at Old Blue.

Kim’s stunning ball-striking stood out all week. But over the first three days and 54 holes, his putting failed to match his tee-to-green standard. On Sunday, his short stick joined the show. Kim maneuvered around Congressional using only 26 putts in the finale, mounting a charge around the turn that yielded birdies at Nos. 7, 9 and 10, salvos that gave him a two-stroke cushion he would never relinquish.

“I finally made some putts today,” Kim said. “Maybe it was the belt.”

Not likely. As much improved as Kim was on the greens during the finale, the scary thing is how many strokes he still left on the greens in victory. He made just one birdie putt longer than 10 feet (a 16-footer at the par-3 No. 10), and he missed four other great looks inside of 14 feet, including a 4-footer at No. 3.

As well as the Los Angeles native played at Congressional, the most remarkable and daunting impression he left was that golf has seen only a bit of his ability.

“Awesome,” veteran Dean Wilson said. “He has all the tools. He hits it a long ways. He has a great short game. He’s very accurate for a guy who hits it that far. … He never does anything out of control.”

That wasn’t always true, particularly not off the course. During his rookie campaign on tour last season, Kim was notorious for partying twice as hard as he practiced. But those days are gone. Catharsis came at the BMW Championship in September. Kim arrived just 15 minutes before his second-round tee time, walked past Woods, who was heading to the tee after his standard extensive preround warmup and realized changes were necessary.

“I [felt] like it was time to grow up,” said Kim, whose personal overhaul involved quitting drinking for nine months, focusing on nutrition and conditioning and devoting himself to practice and preparation. “I’m making a lot better decisions off the course. I’m staying away from bad people and staying away from bad places. … I have to put myself out there like Tiger did for me and many others and be an example.”

The results have been stunning. Kim collected his breakthrough victory two months ago at the Wachovia Championship with a tournament-record score of 272 and a tournament-record margin of five strokes. And Sunday, he joined an exclusive active group alongside Woods, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott by collecting multiple victories in the same season before his 24th birthday. He’s ranked fifth in the FedEx Cup standings. Ranked 20th in the world rankings entering last week, he likely will jump nearly into the top 10. He’s now a lock to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And even Woods is now paying attention.

Moments after Kim signed his scorecard, Woods phoned Kim to congratulate him.

“He told me to just keep working hard and keep it up and the sky’s the limit,” Kim said of the brief conversation. “That means the world to me. I get chills down my back when I think about it because I grew up idolizing him. He is the Michael Jordan of golf, and to come out 10 years after him and have this opportunity to play in his golf tournament and be on the PGA Tour and live my dream is truly a wonderful feeling. … It’s so surreal for me to be in this position right now.”

Rarely has one man’s fantasy looked so much like one sport’s future.

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