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Hayashi wins playoff to land Sony Open spot

Finau and two others also earn berths, while Fujikawa misses out

By Jason Kaneshiro

LAST UPDATED: 2:42 a.m. HST, Jan 11, 2011

By the time Kevin Hayashi walked to the first tee at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course for the second time yesterday, the North Shore had been enveloped by a miserable mix of wind and rain.

"It was bad," Hayashi said, "but I'm from Hilo, you know."

Comfortable playing in the wet stuff as a Big Island pro, Hayashi weathered the conditions that rolled in shortly before his playoff with Mitsuhiro Tateyama yesterday and claimed the final spot in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Hayashi and Tateyama both shot rounds of 68 in yesterday's qualifier, and were tied for the fourth and final available berth in the PGA Tour's first full-field event of the season.

After a potential winning putt lipped out on the second playoff hole, Hayashi stayed alive by matching Tateyama's birdie on the par-5 third. Hayashi then rolled in a 5-foot par putt after Tateyama settled for bogey on the par-3 fourth hole to earn a spot in the Sony Open field for the eighth time.

Qualifying for the Sony Open will make for an eventful Friday for Hayashi, who will be inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame that night.

"It means a lot, because at my age I don't know how many Sony Opens I'll have," said Hayashi, 48.

John Merrick, who tied for 25th in last year's Sony Open, earned a return to Waialae Country Club by leading the qualifier with a round of 6-under-par 66 before the wet weather rolled in.

Doug Labelle and Tony Finau scooped up the next two spots at 67.

Finau, a 21-year-old from Utah known for his distance off the tee, shot a 65 in Sunday's prequalifier and dropped a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole yesterday to secure a spot in the Sony Open for the first time after several close calls in previous tries.

"I had some momentum coming from yesterday," said Finau, who is sponsored by Turtle Bay and has family members living in Laie and Kahuku. "But I knew the 65 didn't mean anything if I didn't back it up with a good round today."

That left Hayashi and Tateyama to play off for the remaining spot. Hayashi said he had just finished lunch in the clubhouse restaurant when he was summoned back to the course.

"I didn't think 68 had a chance," he said. "But when it started raining, I had second thoughts."

After a calm and dry morning, the rain began falling as the last few groups finished their rounds and intensified just as Hayashi and Tateyama started their playoff.

Hayashi appeared to let a chance to close out the playoff slip when his 4-foot putt on No. 2 burned the edge of the cup. He survived the third, thanks to a clutch chip to set up a birdie after Tateyama reached the par 5 in two.

When Hayashi got to No. 4, he decided on caution off the tee.

"I knew I couldn't reach it. It was so windy and rainy I didn't want to chance hitting a wood and hitting it crooked," Hayashi said. "So I hit a 4-iron, hit it short and figured I'd take my chances chipping and putting."

After landing short of the green, he chipped to about 5 feet. Tateyama's 12-footer for par came up short and Hayashi dropped the decisive putt.

Tadd Fujikawa, one of the Sony Open's most popular draws in recent years, was among the 64 players who missed out on qualifying.

Fujikawa admitted being "a little bummed" about not receiving a sponsor's exemption this year, and finished three strokes out of the playoff at 71. But he also accepts the qualifying process as part of life as a young pro.

"I've been playing well; I feel like my game is there. It's one of those things where it's a one-day round and if you make a few mistakes here and there you're already out of it," Fujikawa said.

"I did my best today; it's just nothing was really falling. I didn't really make that many putts and I didn't drive it as well as I have been the past month or so. It's another experience I can build on."

Fujikawa said he will return to Sea Island in Georgia next week to prepare for the NGA/Hooters Tour.

Parker McLachlin also entered the qualifier, but did not turn in a scorecard.

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Hayashi earns spot in Sony Open

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