'Moon' finding his place in sun

2012-02-25T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:40:27Z 'Moon' finding his place in sunPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 25, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Match Play's mystery man pumped his fist once, and then again, a vintage impression of one of his golfing idols, Tiger Woods.

After Sang-moon Bae drilled the winning putt, he shook hands with John Senden, spoke about 100 words to a radio reporter and walked off The Ritz Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, as its most unlikely story.

It's not simply that Bae is the only one of 11 first-time participants to reach the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship quarterfinals.

It's that he had never, ever, played any form of match play before.

In his first year on the PGA Tour, Bae was without an agent until earlier this season.

Before this season he had only collected one paycheck on American soil - $37,351, when he tied for 42nd at last year's U.S. Open.

"My boy, he was just - he was solid all day," Senden, an Australian, said. "He swung it well."

A half-hour after his final putt went in, Tour media relations staff handed out photocopies of Bae's biography, which revealed that he likes Woods, Korean barbecue and his iPhone.

The South Korean prefers to be called "Moon," took up golf at 11 at the urging of his parents and once wanted to be a baseball star.

When asked to speak to the media corps, Bae demurred, saying his English wasn't up to par.

If there's more to be revealed about Bae, it won't likely come from his mouth, though he has promised to speak at length to the English-speaking masses if he can beat No. 1 seed Rory McIlroy today.

"Today was very nice," he said. "I had good luck today.

"John Senden is a very good iron player. But I tried to focus on my game. That's it. I made a lot of birdie putts so I could win today."

Bae dominated early, taking a 2-hole lead through five, only to watch Senden birdie Nos. 7 and 8 to square the match.

"I was always behind," Senden said. "I needed to really sort of turn things around, especially - I did that through nine holes and got back into the match."

They carded the same scores on the next four holes before Bae won No. 13 and lost No. 15.

Bae parred No. 16 for a one-hole lead.

He had a chance to end the match at the 17th hole, but watched as his 5-foot-9-inch putt circled the cup as if it were the kitchen drain, then spit off to the left.

"It gave me a chance," Senden said.

Forced to play one more, Bae teed off at the 18th hole into a fairway bunker 141 yards from the hole. He escaped beautifully, landing his next shot 45 feet from the cup on the green.

After putting within 5 feet 7 inches, he made a putt eerily similar to the one he missed at No. 17, and celebrated with a fist pump.

"It's match play," he said. "So I will try to focus on my game, that's it."

McIlroy remembers Bae from the 2009 Korea Open.

The two were tied and paired together on the final day on the only day they ever played together. Bae shot 4 under to win, while McIlroy, then 19, was 1 over.

"I was really impressed with him," said McIlroy, who could earn the world's No. 1 ranking by taking the tournament.. "As I said, he's a very good ball striker, and he played very well then."

Bae beat 2010 Match Play champ Ian Poulter in the first round, and defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel on Thursday.

"He's been very impressive this week," McIlroy said. "He's had a great week so far."

A win would add to an unbelievable start to his first season.

In 19 appearances on the Japan Tour last year, he won three times, earning $1.74 million. He's won an event each year for six straight seasons.

In five PGA Tour events this year, Bae totaled $170,816.

Win or lose today, he'll add quite a chunk of change to that, having already banked $270,000. A victory earns him at least $490,000.

Not bad for the mystery man.

"The PGA is a blast," he said. "I love it."

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