HONOLULU (AP) — Five strokes behind at the turn, Hideki Matsuyama thought all he could do was keep his head down and try to stay in the game Sunday at the Sony Open.
And when he finally looked up, he couldn’t see one of the best shots of his career.
In a sudden-death playoff with Russell Henley, Matsuyama hit a wood from 3-276 yards, in direct sunlight, and had no idea he’d set up 3 feet away for the eagle on the par-5 18 until he heard a huge cheer from one of Waialae’s biggest galleries.
“To be honest, I haven’t even seen it,” Matsuyama said. “But everyone started clapping, and I knew that was good.”
Matsuyama, who birdied 18 in regulation for a 7-under 63, won the PGA Tour for the eighth time, tying him with KJ Choi for most wins on the tour by a player. of Asian descent.
For the Masters champion, that was the most unlikely.
Henley closed the front nine with five straight putts, starting with a par save, three consecutive birdies and a 3-foot eagle to build a five-stroke lead.
He never made another birdie the rest of the way. Henley’s greatest moments on the back nine were a pair of tough saves, and he made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th in regulation to win. He grabbed the right edge of the cup, and he had to settle for a 65.
“A little sloppy on the back nine, but I made the normal saves I needed to make to put pressure on Hideki. He just played amazing golf today,” Henley said. “I wish I could have put a little more pressure on him. Hard to beat 3 wood at 2-foot-18.”
Matsuyama, who nearly came out of his shoes with driver on regulation 18 knowing he might need an eagle, went with 3 wood in the playoff because Henley was already in a fairway bunker and couldn’t. to reach.
That left Matsuyama with another 3 wood, a perfect number for his high fade with a little breeze working left to right off the Pacific Ocean.
He immediately raised his hand to shield himself from the sun and could never find the ball. The roar told him everything he needed to know.
Henley, after having to lay out of the sand, sent his 85-yard wedge lob bounding onto the green and it bogeyed. At that time, it didn’t matter.
Matsuyama hit his eagle putt for his second PGA Tour victory this season. Both times he finished with an eagle, only he needed that shot. His eagle at the Zozo Championship in Japan earned him a victory in five strokes.
Matsuyama knew his Sony Open history. It was there that Isao Aoki became the first Japanese player to win on the PGA Tour in 1983 when he came out of the fairway for the eagle.
“To follow him, I’m over the moon,” Matsuyama said.
They finished 23-under 257. Matsuyama played his 13th straight run in the ’60s since the final day of the CJ Cup at The Summit in Las Vegas.
Kevin Kisner (64) and Seamus Power of Ireland (65) are tied for third, four strokes behind.
It was a two-man race from the start, even though it felt like a runaway at the turn.
Matsuyama made a pair of early birdies to get a shot, and he had a big gallery by Honolulu standards, many of them shouting “Sugoi!” after his two birdies – Japanese for “great”.
Henley kept his cool. He held the lead by making a par putt from 10ft after staying long at No. 5. That seemed to free him, as Henley continued on a tear from there – birdie tapped, birdie 8ft, a 3-foot Birdie then a 3-foot approach for the Eagle on the par-5 ninth.
Matsuyama put three putts for par and is suddenly five shots behind.
“Russell was playing the front nine so well, but around the turn I was like, ‘He can’t go on like this, can he?'” Matsuyama said through his interpreter.
Matsuyama started the back nine with a birdie, then a two-shot swing followed on the par-3 11 when Henley went left into a bogey bunker and Matsuyama drilled a par 12-footer.
Henley saved two big pars, including an 8-footer on No. 13, and Matsuyama razed another header with a 20-foot birdie on 15.
This set up the great finish.
Henley watched carefully as Matsuyama’s long putt rolled near his marker and saw him spin left. His 10-foot birdie putt didn’t do it, and Matsuyama gave him no chance in the playoffs.
It was the fifth time Henley had held at least a share of the 54-hole lead and failed to convert his maiden win to start his rookie season at the Sony Open in 2013.
“It stings. I played some good golf,” Henley said. “I feel like I’m in it all the time mentally this time. I haven’t had too many mental issues like I’ve had other tournaments where I’ve been close to the lead in the last two years. So I feel like I’m there. I just have to keep blowing.
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