Having given up a three-stroke 54-hole lead at last year's Sony Open, Brendan Steele entered the final round of this year's edition with a two-shot advantage and when he eagled the par five ninth to extend his lead to three, the 37-year-old Californian was matched at a low of 1.374/11, but he still couldn't kick on and win.
Steele, who was generally a 240.00239/1 chance before the off, looked like he was about to earn redemption for last year's agonising play-off defeat but everything changed at the driveable par four 10th when his drive got caught up on the edge of a greenside bunker. His drive was on a perfect line and, had the ball landed two feet further forward, it would have run up and onto the green to set up a chance for back-to-back eagles to extend the lead further. But from a tricky spot above the bunker, he hit a poor second before three-putting for bogey and that was the first of two huge turning points.
Kevin Na, who began the event trading at around 120.0119/1, looked to be faltering badly when he slipped three behind Steele with a bogey at 12. He hit a shocking drive at 13 but everything changed when he hit a brilliant approach from the trees to 13 feet and knocked in the birdie. That gave him momentum and the pair were tied for the lead at the very next hole when Na birdied again and Steele bogeyed again.
Na birdied his third in-a-row at the 15th, parred the next two and birdied the last to win by one over last week's runner-up, Joaquin Niemann, and Chris Kirk, who's high finish saw him earn a PGA Tour card at the last attempt. The 35-year-old was playing on the final start of his major medical extension after taking a months-long leave of absence due to alcohol abuse and depression.
Poor Steele limped home with four birdies in-a-row to finish tied fourth, beaten by two.
Kevin Na took a very long time to get off the mark on the PGA Tour (369 starts) but he's now extremely prolific. He's won a tournament in each of the last four seasons and this was his fourth win in 55 starts.
It's been a disappointing week. Find Me a 100 Winner pick Stewart Cink was bang there with a round to go but, for the second day running, he bogeyed the opening hole and that was that. He never got going after that and he didn't trade any lower than the 14.5 he hit on Friday.
As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I had a small bet on Steele before the final round but I didn't make the most of the wager.
I should have layed some back when he traded at long odds-on but in attempt to stay awake, I was making a cup of tea when he messed up on 11 so I completely missed my window. Even after the unfortunate break off the tee, I hadn't envisioned a dropped shot.
And just to make things slightly worse, I also backed Kirk in-running at 6.86/1, after he'd finished his round. Na was tied with him with just the 18th to play and Niemann and Steele trailed him by a stroke. I certainly didn't expect to witness Na bogeying the hole (as Steele had done 12 months previously when leading by a stroke) but I thought there was a fair chance he may only make par and that a playoff was possible. But it wasn't to be.
What Have we Learned This Week
Na winning was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I backed him umpteen times last year and I had him in mind for this week's American Express. Just one of the events I backed him in during 2020.
At 120.0119/1, he was yet another outsider to have won here having teed it up the week before at Kapalua and having won at Colonial in 2019 (a venue Kirk has also won at), he had winning form at one of the correlating courses. He also had three previous top-10s at Waialae so there were plenty of pointers.
It's now 16 of the last 23 winners of the Sony that have played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Na is the fourth outsider to achieve the feat in the last six years, following Fabian Gomez, Patton Kizzire and Matt Kuchar.
There are plenty of angles in here and a number of correlating courses but it would be remiss of me not to mention that Na and Niemann occupying the first two places is a big boost to form at the Greenbrier Classic.
Seth Raynor, who designed Waialae Country Club, the Sony's host course, was also responsible for The Old White in West Virginia, where the Greenbrier is staged, and Na and Niemann have won the last two editions of that tournament.
The European Tour season kicks off this week with the 16th edition of the Abu Dhabi Championship and the PGA Tour moves on to California for the American Express. I'll be back this evening or tomorrow with my previews.
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