Daily Wrap-up: Sony Open in Hawaii, Rd. 4January 13, 2013
HONOLULU -- Russell Henley only felt like a rookie at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
He sure didn't play like one.
Henley was so nervous Sunday afternoon that he couldn't feel his arms and legs, and everything around him seemed to be moving at warp speed.
Only when he finished his record-setting performance with one last birdie did he realize what happened. And even then, he didn't know what to say.
Henley, who made two prior starts on the PGA TOUR as an amateur, became the first player in 12 years to win in his debut as a TOUR rookie member.
He recorded the third-best score for a 72-hole tournament in PGA TOUR history, and a record score at the Sony Open in Hawaii by four shots en route to tying Dustin Johnson atop the FedExCup standings with 500 points.
He finished with five straight birdies -- only one of them inside 10 feet -- for a 29 on the back nine and a 7-under 63, the lowest finish by a Sony Open winner.
And yes, he has a tee time reserved for him at the Masters in April.
"I'm pretty speechless," Henley said. "I was trying not to think about Augusta out there because I just kept telling myself, `This is a long year, you're going to play this game a long time, and be patient, it doesn't have to happen now.' Everything I could to psyche myself out of thinking about winning. It worked."
The back nine was simply surreal.
Henley won by three shots over Tim Clark, who birdied seven of his last 11 holes and still made up only one shot on the rookie from Georgia.
"When you get up close and watch a guy play ... if that's how he putts all the time, whew! It's over," Clark said.
And it was.
Tied for the lead with fellow rookie Scott Langley to start the final round, Henley seized control with a birdie on the opening hole and then poured it on at the end.
Henley had a two-shot lead with seven holes to play when he calmly sank a 10-foot par putt on the 12th, and he began to pull away with a 45-foot birdie putt on the 14th.
When the rookie rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th to stay three shots ahead, Clark started laughing. There wasn't anything else he could do.
"He just never seemed to put a foot wrong, and when he did, he made those par putts," Clark said. "That's when you know a guy is comfortable, when he's making those 8- to 10-footer for par. But I still got on the 15th hole and said, `Well, let's finish with four birdies and see what happens.' And sure enough, he birdied the last four, too. When a guy plays that well and beats you, you just have to be happy for them."
Henley finished at 24-under 256, breaking by four shots the Sony Open scoring record held by Brad Faxon in 2001 and John Huston in 1998. It was the third-lowest score for a 72-hole tournament in PGA TOUR history, two shots behind Tommy Armour III in 2003 at the Valero Texas Open and a shot back of Steve Stricker’s 255 at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic
And that wasn't the only mark Henley left on Waialae Country Club. He set tournament records for the low 36-hole score after his 63-63 start, he shared the 54-hole record with Langley and set another tournament record with the lowest final round by a champion.
He became the first PGA TOUR rookie to win his debut since Garrett Willis did in Tucson in 2001, which was held the same week as the winners-only event in Kapalua. And the way he putts, there's no telling where this will lead.
For starters, the 23-year-old from Macon, Ga., can add a local event to his schedule -- he's going to the Masters in April.
"I don't really know what happened, honestly," Henley said. "This is the most nervous I've ever been. That's the hardest thing I've ever done. It's been my goal to make it to the Masters my whole life. I'm kind of speechless right now."
He then acknowledged his parents and his girlfriend, watching from home. Henley spent his first week as a tour member on his own, and that's about how he looked on Sunday. No one was particularly close to him.
Clark, finally feeling healthy after an elbow injury after his runner-up finish at the Sony Open in 2011, shot 63. Charles Howell III closed with a 66 to tie for third with Langley, who birdied his last two holes for a 70.
"I wish I would have played a little bit better today and made some more putts," said Langley, who missed three birdie putts of 5 feet on the front nine. "But Russell played so awesome. I don't even know if I could have caught him."
Henley only looked to be in big trouble when he hooked his tee shot well left on the 16th, flirting with out of bounds.
No problem. He hammered a pitching wedge from 160 yards over a large tree and a row of royal pines to 12 feet and turned trouble into a birdie.
On the strength of his Web.com Tour season last year -- two wins and No. 3 on the money list -- the win allowed Henley to crack the top 50 in the world ranking.
That should be enough to get him into the Accenture-Match Play Championship for the top 64 in the world, with the qualifying date only a month away, and he should be set for the other WGC at the Cadillac Championship. The win qualifies him for the Bridgestone Invitational in August, along with the PGA Championship.
The Georgia kid has been on a roll. In his past five tournaments dating to end of September -- four of those on the Web.com Tour -- Henley is 73-under par. His scoring average in those five events is 67.15.
Henley seized control immediately with an approach that barely cleared the bunker and settled 3 feet away for birdie. For Langley, it was a struggle from the start. He went over the green and into the rough with a lie that looked as if it might jump on him.
Instead, he decelerated and moved it only about 10 feet, chipped to 5 feet and watched the bogey putt swirl into the cup. At least that one went in.
Despite falling two behind after one hole, Langley had ample opportunity to make up ground, except that his stroke was quick and he missed short birdie chances.
When they made the turn, Henley had a two-shot lead.
Clark got in the game by running off three straight birdies around the turn to get within two shots.
No one else came particularly close. Howell, twice a runner-up at the Sony Open, made a 15-foot eagle putt on the ninth to get within one shot, but only as long as it took Henley to two-putt for birdie on the ninth and smash a drive on the 10th that set up a pitch-and-putt birdie.
Pat Perez and Matt Kuchar also put themselves in good position in case Henley was to fold. That never materialized, and never looked as if it even would -- not with that putting stroke. Henley had 33 one-putt greens for the tournament, seven of them over the final nine holes.
"I can't imagine what people at home watching this tournament saw," Clark said. "That's kind of what we were feeling out there."
Waialae Country Club: Round 4 Easiest hole Toughest hole
The par-5 ninth hole was the easiest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.297.
EAGLES: 2 | BIRDIES: 48 | PARS: 24 | BOGEYS: 0 | OTHER: 0
The par-4 13th hole was the toughest with a Sunday scoring average of 4.176.
EAGLES: 0 | BIRDIES: 6 | PARS: 50 | BOGEYS: 17 | OTHER: 1
About the winner: Russell Henley • With his victory at the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii, Russell Henley earns 500 FedExCup points and moves into a first-place tie with last week’s champion Dustin Johnson.
• He wins his first PGA TOUR victory at age 23 years, 9 months and 1 day in just his third official start. He had two as an amateur.
• With his win, he becomes the first rookie to win in his first start as an official member of the PGA TOUR since Garrett Willis at the 2001 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. The last rookie to win a TOUR event was Charlie Beljan at the 2012 Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
• He also earns the winner’s share of $1,008,000 and becomes the ninth player to make this event his first PGA TOUR win. Others who won their first event here were Ted Makalena (1966), Grier Jones (1972), John Schlee (1973), Gary Groh (1975), Isao Aoki (1983), David Ishii (1990), John Morse (1995) and Jerry Kelly (2002).
• Finished the week second in Greens in Regulation, hitting 60 of 72 (83.33%). • He becomes the seventh former University of Georgia player to win a PGA TOUR event, joining Chip Beck, Bill Kratzert, Bubba Watson, Chris Kirk, Tim Simpson, and Ryuji Imada.