Sebastian Munoz edges out Sungjae Im for first title

A nerveless 15-foot birdie on the 72nd hole helped Sebastian Munoz force a playoff against Sungjae Im. The Colombian won on the first playoff hole

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Sebastian Munoz wins Sanderson Farms Championship

23 September 2019: When Sebastian Munoz started his college career, he didn’t dream of playing the PGA TOUR. Reaching golf’s highest stage didn’t seem realistic. He was struggling just to crack the starting lineup at North Texas. Focusing on academics felt like the prudent thing to do.

Then the quick pro success of a former teammate changed Munoz’s mind. Carlos Ortiz started his first season on the Korn Ferry Tour during Munoz’s junior year. Ortiz won three times and inspired Munoz to swap some time in the library for the driving range.

Still, Munoz said he wouldn’t turn pro unless he won during his senior season. He’d return to Colombia and work for his family’s rubber-tree plantation instead. Fortunately, he won twice during his final year for the Mean Green.

“I made a promise, so I said, ‘Let’s go,’” Munoz said.

Like his former teammate, he didn’t take long to enter the winner’s circle. Munoz won his second start on the Korn Ferry Tour, after receiving a sponsor exemption into the event in his native Colombia. It translated into his first PGA TOUR card.

He made his first start as a PGA TOUR member at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Three years later, it was the site of his first PGA TOUR win after he beat the reigning Rookie of the Year, Sungjae Im, on the first hole of a playoff.

With the win, Munoz took over the top spot in the FedExCup standings. He shot 70-67-63-70 to finish at 18-under 270 at the Country Club of Jackson.

“I never thought I was going to be a PGA TOUR player,” Munoz said. “It wasn’t even an option.”

He’s the second consecutive winner from Latin America to start the new season. Joaquin Niemann won the season-opening A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. Watching his friend win gave Munoz the confidence that he could do the same.

It was at The Greenbrier two years ago when Munoz held the first 54-hole lead of his career. He shot 2 over in the final round, though, as Xander Schauffele earned his first win. 

Munoz quizzed Niemann, who made six back-nine birdies last Sunday, about the final round as they flew together to Mississippi. The advice paid off quickly. Munoz was back in the lead after a third-round 63 at the Country Club of Jackson.

“Him winning last week was the last piece of the puzzle that I needed to know that we’re good enough to compete, that we’re PGA TOUR members and we play to win,” Munoz said.

Munoz scrambled to stay in the lead all day until a sloppy bogey at the drivable 15th. It was his first in 39 holes. He still trailed by one when he came to the final hole.

Munoz slammed a 322-yard tee shot into the fairway, then hit his 160-yard approach to 15 feet. He made the putt, setting off a roar in the grandstands surrounding the final green.

He missed both the fairway and the green on the first extra hole, but chipped to 4 feet and made par. He won after Im failed to get up-and-down from behind the green.

“He has a lot of moxie and confidence,” said Munoz’s former college coach, Brad Stracke. “It doesn’t surprise me he made that putt to tie and then got that up-and-down.”

Munoz only made three bogeys all week despite hitting just 52% of the fairways. None of his recovery shots was bigger than his approach on the 482-yard sixth, one of the Country Club of Jackson’s most difficult holes.  

His tee shot slammed into a tree, leaving him 260 yards to the green on the par-4. The thick canopy of the oaks left him with few options. Pitching out to the right, and leaving himself a third shot around 100 yards seemed like the prudent play.

Munoz was inspired to take the riskier route after seeing Golf Channel broadcaster Jim “Bones” Mackay, who was following the group. Mackay was the longtime caddie for Phil Mickelson. Munoz decided to emulate Mackay’s old boss.

“Fortune favors the bold,” Munoz said. “I believed in myself and pulled the shot off.”

Munoz opened the face of his fairway wood, and hit a shot that was headed down the parallel fifth fairway before slicing some 50 yards. It ended up in the rough left of the green. He pitched to 12 feet and made the putt. 

 

Munoz finished 42nd in driving accuracy this week after hitting 29 fairways, but he was 12th in greens hit (57 of 72). His iron play was good enough that he didn’t have to make a putt longer than 15 feet for any of his 21 birdies.

It was Munoz’s second consecutive top-10 to start the season. He finished T7 last week at A Military Tribute.

Stracke remembers the first time he watched Munoz play, at a junior event on Doral’s Blue Monster. Munoz made eight birdies.

“I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, this guy is going to be great.’”

He almost didn’t play the PGA TOUR, though. Now he’s a winner.