WHO says that PGA Tour players have a tough life? The first full-field event of the year takes place this week, with Australia’s Cameron Smith defending his Sony Open title in Hawaii. Surprisingly, it was only his second victory. Later in the year he wrote a little piece of golfing history by becoming the first man to shoot four rounds in the sixties at The Masters.
His success last year came the hard way. He was two behind with two holes to play, and made an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole to force a playoff against Brendan Steele, and then won with a par on the first extra hole. Steele had a three-shot lead when he holed a bunker shot for birdie on the 11th hole and he was never behind until he faltered at the end. He missed a six-foot par putt on the 17th, and then hit a wild hook from the fairway on the par-five 18th and had to settle for a par on a hole where everybody else was making birdies for fun.
On the 10th hole for the playoff, Steele was in ideal position in the fairway, 88 yards from the hole, but hit his approach over the green. He chipped to 15 feet and missed the par putt. Smith, who had driven into right rough, hit his approach to 10 feet and made a routine par.
His only previous success had come three years earlier when he shared the team title with Jonas Blixt at the Zurich Classic.
“I just had to hang in there. No one was playing good golf today, it seemed like,” Smith said after a 68. “Just hung in there, and what do you know? That’s been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time, to finally say I’ve won an event by myself,” Smith said. “It’s quite good.”
Steele was trying to win for the first time in just over two years and was bitterly disappointed to miss out. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong today,” Steele said. He closed with a 71.
They finished at 11-under 269, the highest winning score at the Sony Open in 15 years. The wind finally died to normal strength instead of 30 mph gusts. But the rain was steady, and the course was soaked.
The final roundly really came to life in the final hour when Steele missed the green to the left on the par-three 17th, pitched to six feet and missed his par putt, reducing his lead to a single shot.
Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson were in the group ahead, both one shot behind. From a fairway bunker, Palmer went with fairway metal and sent it soaring so far to the right that it bounced off the metal railing atop a monster video board, beyond the corporate tent, never to be seen again. He had to return to the bunker and made bogey. Simpson’s wedge skipped off the soaked green and settled 15 feet behind the hole. He narrowly missed the birdie putt, shot 67 and finished alone in third.
Steele went just as far offline as Palmer but in the opposite direction. It bounced off the roof of the tents left of the green and stopped near the ropes lining the 10th fairway. Given free relief from the grandstands, he hit wedge to 30 feet and two-putted for par.
“The lie was good,” Steele said. “It was just a two iron to win a golf tournament. It’s hard.”
Smith holed his eight-footer for birdie. With his bogey on the 18th, Palmer had to settle for a 68 and tied for fourth with Graeme McDowell, who had a 64 to match the low score Sunday, and Kevin Kisner, who played in the final group but made only one birdie on the back for a 69.
Lanto Griffin, who opened with a 71 and was in danger of missing the cut, closed with a 64 to tie for seventh. In his first 10 starts last season he finished in the top 20 eight times.
The Sony Open was won in 2015 by Jimmy Walker, in 2016 by Fabian Gomes, in 2017 by Justin Thomas, in 2018 by Patton Kizzire, in 2019 by Matt Kuchar and last year by Smith.
Surprisingly, the likes of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have all decided to give the event a miss, but there is a still a strong field and Smith returns to the scene of his triumph on the back of a strong performance at the Tournament of Champions.
Sony Open Tips
Hideki Matsuyama. Ready to win again
Collin Morikawa. Class act
Patrick Reed. Desperate to secure another win
Hideki Matsuyama. If he holes a few putts he will be very hard to heat
Colin Morikawa. Best iron player in the business
Patrick Reed. Looking for a big year
Abraham Ancer. We keep saying it but he surely must win soon
Sungjae Im. The PGA Tour’s iron man
Richy Werenski. Could be a player to watch in 2021
Erik Van Royen. Glorious golf swing
Daniel Berger. Back to his very best
Cameron Smith. Will have good memories
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