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Kim's upward trajectory continues at final stage

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Meen Whee Kim didn't start playing golf until age 12. Once he did, he learned the game not through a swing coach but by watching video of Tiger Woods' swing and trying to emulate it.

"Butch's swing, Hank's swing, Foley's swing," Kim joked when asked which of Woods' swings he tried to model his after. "I just like Tiger; it doesn't matter."

A few hours east of where his idol is hosting his annual tournament at Sherwood Country Club, Kim, now 20, is pursuing his dream of joining Woods on the PGA TOUR.

So far, he's off to a good start.

Kim tied the course record at PGA West's Stadium Course with a 9-under 63 Thursday to take a one-shot lead through two rounds of q-school, where the top 25 players (and ties) will receive TOUR cards for next season.

But you have to go back a few years to fully appreciate how far Kim has come.

Just five years after picking up a golf club, Kim finished third in the Asian Amateur Championship, to which the winner of receives an exemption into the Masters.

The following year, Kim won the gold medal in the team and individual competitions at the 2010 Asian Games, coasting to an impressive 9-shot win in the latter.

The victory was more than just a confidence boost for the then-teenager. It got him out of having to fulfill an otherwise mandatory 22 months of military service all Korean males are required to do by their 30th birthday.

It was also a sign of things to come.

In 2011, Kim finished third at the Korea Open, beaten only by Rory McIlroy and winner Rickie Fowler.

This year, Kim won the Shinhan Donghae Open, beating Kevin Na in a playoff and a field that included Paul Casey, Charlie Wi, John Huh and K.T. Kim, among others.

Then Kim hopped on a plane for the U.S. and earned medalist honors in the first stage of q-school -- in his first-ever round in the states -- before finishing second in the second stage.

Thursday, he made nine birdies and no bogeys after taking just 23 putts and hitting 14 greens in regulation.

Tying a course record is one thing. Doing it in q-school with a TOUR card on the line is another.

"Just a little bit," Kim said when asked if he feels any pressure this week. "Because it's q-school."

You wouldn't have known it watching Kim. The 63 was a personal best for him in competition.

It's also helped that 2011 PLAYERS Champion K.J. Choi has been something of a mentor to Kim. The two have played together in the tournament Choi hosts annually in South Korea and Choi has regularly provided advice to the youngster.

"The difference between the U.S. and Korean Tour is that it's so much different over there that I need to play on the (PGA) TOUR," Kim said.

Kim also has his sights set on the 2015 Presidents Cup, which will be played in South Korea, and the Olympics the following year.

First things first, though. He has a TOUR card to earn.

When it came to how to prepare for this week, Choi's advice was simple: "He just said it's very difficult."

So far, it hasn't looked that way for Kim.

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