On a marathon final day when the flags and the field barely moved, Mark Wilson staked his place on top of the leaderboard early and never looked back to win the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Wilson played his final 42 holes without a bogey at Waialae Country Club, and 36 came yesterday after the rain washed out Thursday’s first round. The course went from waterlogged to unusually calm and remarkably playable in the interim.
Wilson played it best, earning his third PGA Tour win and first Masters invitation. His perseverance, precision and brilliant putting touch were rewarded with a two-shot victory over Tim Clark and Steve Marino.
Wilson went into the third round in third place and fired his second 5-under-par 65 in three days for the morning’s best round, pulling into first.
He clinched his third win — and Clark’s ninth runner-up finish — with a 67 in the afternoon. Wilson finished at 16-under 264.
He led for the last 19 holes, grabbing first alone with birdie on the 18th hole of the third round. From there, he had 6 minutes to get to the first tee for his final round.
"I always pack a chicken sandwich for every round, so I had one in the locker," he recalled. "I had to get another dozen balls, so I figured in 6 minutes I could run to the locker, get that stuff and run to the first tee. I made it with 2 minutes to spare."
The course made a miraculous recovery from the mid-week drenching that forced the long final day. Waialae was green, pristine and all but windless for the 10-hour-plus final day. It might never play easier, but no one seemed to notice.
Clark, a South African ranked 27th in the world, came closest to going ridiculously low, firing final-day rounds of 66-64. He was within one when he finished, an hour before Wilson. But even he didn’t sense he was doing anything special.
Starting his final round five behind and on the back nine, Clark was 10 under at the turn.
"I knew Mark was at 15 (under) the whole time I was on my back nine," Clark said, "but there were a bunch of guys … I thought more guys would make a bit of a push, particularly since I thought the back nine played easier. Once I started making a few birdies, then you sort of realize, hey, if I can birdie 17 or eagle 18 I’d have a chance."
He came close. Clark birdied his 11th hole, then moved into second alone when he poured in a 15-footer on his 15th hole (No. 6). He got within 2 inches of a hole-in-one on the next hole to climb to 13 under and two back.
At that point he had one-putted six of his last eight holes. He fired his approach to 11 feet on the next hole, but missed the birdie, then let a 16-footer for eagle on his closing hole get away.
He finished at 14-under, while Wilson, who had a four-shot advantage when he made the turn, was in the midst of making seven simple pars on the back nine.
Then Marino, playing with Wilson, got a glimmer of hope. He birdied the 15th and 16th to get to 13 under and Wilson hit into the bunker at the next hole.
He blasted out 10 feet past the pin, then rolled his par putt into the heart of the hole, just as he had for the last 8 hours. Wilson was in four bunkers this week, and got up and down each time.
"Even on 17, I wasn’t stressing that I missed the green," Wilson said. "I rolled in that par putt, which was very crucial to be able to play 18 a little bit easier."
Marino, who now has top-10 finishes here the past three years, made one last push. Standing in a fairway bunker on the 18th hole, with the ball in the grass above him at knee level, he somehow got enough club on the ball to hoist it 234 yards to the green. His eagle putt from 40 feet rolled just over the left edge. Wilson chipped within 5 feet and birdied for his final gap.
"I didn’t really look at the leaderboard all day," the winner said. "I kind of knew what a good score was and kind of knew that I had to be near the top because the cameras don’t really follow me unless I’m near the top and they were following me, so I thought that was a good sign."
Wilson, 36, is small and soft-spoken, known more for the nuances of his game than any huge asset. He was second in driving accuracy this week and sixth in putting. Waialae’s narrow fairways and ocean-inspired greens play right into his patient hands, which grabbed a $990,000 check at the end.
"I always kind of remember how it goes to the ocean," he said. "So a putt like I had on 16 today, even though it looks like it’s uphill, it’s actually going towards the ocean, so it’s a little downgrain, a little quicker. My thought process was really good on each putt and so my speed was good."
Too good for anyone to get a real shot at catching him, even on this very long day.
With yesterday’s $484,000 check, Clark has now won $18 million on the tour, despite having eight more runner-up finishes than wins (one).
"Mark always had it in his control and he was able to finish it off," said Clark, who spent last Monday hosting a clinic at Ka’anapali Resort. "Funny enough, they don’t sting that much unless you’ve really done something bad to lose the tournament. I’m happy about the week, particularly how I played. I didn’t feel like I played my best golf and I’ve come second so I’m really excited about what I can do in the next few weeks."
In contrast, the two men who shared the lead Saturday night were not excited when it finally ended. Stuart Appleby ended up 13th, hitting just 12 fairways the final 36 holes. Shigeki Maruyama tied for seventh, playing the final day in a total of 1 under. It was his seventh top-25 finish here.