HONOLULU (AP) — The spoils at the Sony Open belonged to Kevin Na, a winner for the fourth straight season after coming from three shots behind with six holes to play for a one-shot victory with a birdie on the final hole.
The consolation prize belonged to Chris Kirk, and it felt like a win.
Kirk stepped away in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression, a decision he feels saved himself, his family and his career. He was playing the final event of a medical extension the PGA Tour awarded him for lost time, and he delivered a 65 to finish one shot behind.
The birdie on the final hole gave him enough points to regain full status.
“It totally changes everything being able to be back to picking my schedule like I’m used to over the last number of years,” Kirk said. “To go into a week and say I’ve got to finish top three to keep going and do is silly. I’m thankful God put me in a great situation, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Na could have felt similarly.
The Sony Open is typically so crowded at the top that no one is safe and no one is ever out of it. Na only looked to be out of it when he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 11th and then three-putted for bogey from 40 feet on the 12th to fall three shots behind Brendan Steele.
He answered with three straight birdies, Steele faltered at Waialae for the second straight year, and Na delivered the winning shot with a 5-wood from the rough that went just over the back of the green on the par-5 18th, leaving him a simple up-and-down for birdie and a a 5-under 65.
“I was playing maybe a little bit more aggressive coming down the stretch, not worrying so much about second or third, more focused on just that — winning,” Na said. “Every year, I hope to win and I expect to win on the right golf courses.”
Kirk and Joaquin Niemann (66) finished one shot behind, and it only felt good to one of them. Niemann was runner-up for the second straight week in Hawaii. He finished the two Hawaii events at 45-under par without a trophy to show for it.
“Just another good week, so happy for that,” Niemann said. He leaves Hawaii with $1,369,400 in earnings.
Na collected his fifth career victory on the PGA Tour. Na, who turned pro out of high school, didn’t win until his eighth season. It was seven more seasons until he won again. Now he’s up to four seasons in a row.
“I think experience is the reason why I’ve been winning,” he said. “When you do it again, you know it seems like the next one comes easier. … I think more about winning since I’ve been winning more often.”
It was hard to think that way when he was running out of time. From the rough left of the 13th, he hit his approach into just under 15 feet for the first of three straight birdies.
As for Brendan Steele, it was another year of disappointment in paradise, this one more of a slow leak. Steele last year had a two-shot lead with two to play and wound up losing in a playoff. This time, he made an 18-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole to take a three-shot lead into the back nine.
He hit driver on the 355-yard 10th and didn’t quite clear a bunker, leaving an awkward lie. He put his wedge on the front of the green some 80 feet away and three-putted. His game was so tentative the rest of the way that he didn’t have a birdie chance inside 30 feet until the 17th hole. That was from 10 feet to tie for the lead, and he missed that.
Steele also failed to birdie the 18th and closed with a 69.
“Totally changed the momentum,” Steele said about his bogey on the 10th. “Every single shot I hit after that ended up with a weird lie. … I think you just have to really take some positives out of this. Hard to see for me right now.”
Webb Simpson matched the low score of the final round with a 64 and tied for fourth along with Steele and Marc Leishman, shot shot 30 on the back nine.
Na finished at 21-under 259 and is assured of returning to Hawaii for two weeks next year, starting with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. That course can be too big for him. Waialae proved to be a perfect fit.