The PGA Tour’s Hawaii swing went 2-for-2 in delivering playoff drama in fading daylight.
A week after Justin Thomas picked up a trophy in near darkness after surviving extra holes at the wind-blown Sentry Tournament of Champions on Maui, Cameron Smith found himself in much the same pose at a soggy Waialae Country Club as darkness fell following a wild finish to the Sony Open in Hawaii on Sunday.
As it was at Kapalua’s Plantation Course, miscues by the leader late in regulation necessitated extra holes and Smith made up a two-shot deficit on the final two holes when Brendan Steele faltered on Nos. 17 and 18.
When Steele’s struggles followed him to Waialae’s 10th hole, the first of the playoff, Smith’s two-putt par was enough to give him his second win on tour and wrap up a week of rough conditions at Waialae.
Photo Gallery: Cameron Smith wins Sony Open in Hawaii
“Things just fell into place,” Smith said, “and sometimes you just need a little bit of luck to kind of fall your way, and you never know what can happen.”
At times, Sunday’s play matched the sloppy mess created by the rains that saturated Waialae throughout a gloomy final round. The wind that dominated the first three days dissipated, replaced by a steady drizzle and Steele, who began the day with a three-shot lead, wobbled at times but still appeared in control with two holes to play.
Steele cracked open the door with a bogey on the par-3 and that’s when things went nutty.
The final group waited in the fairway for about 15 minutes while the group ahead searched for Ryan Palmer’s wayward approach shot. After the muddy hunt around storage containers, the video screen and even backyards of homes neighboring the 18th green came up empty, Palmer went back to the fairway bunker to re-hit his shot and the wait continued as the group finished up on the green.
“Yeah, wasn’t helpful,” Steele said. “Stood on the (fairway) for a long time, which was OK because I was kind of collecting myself from 17. I was watching Ryan and trying to figure out what he was doing. I was trying to figure out where he could have possibly hit it, and then I was thinking, oh, he’s hit it out of bounds right.
“I was like, well, we don’t want to do that.”
When his turn to hit finally arrived, Steele sent his approach on the par-5 sailing in the opposite direction. His ball sailed over the grandstands on the left side of the green, coming to rest behind the temporary structures and in the rough along the 10th fairway.
After getting relief between the stands, Steele managed to give himself a chance at a 28-foot putt for birdie for his fourth PGA Tour win. His putt slid past the hole and he settled for par and a round of 1-over-par 71, leaving him at 11 under for the tournament.
Smith, meanwhile, had pulled his second shot into a bunker short of the green and he left himself a putt just over 8 feet for birdie to catch Steele.
“Well, I knew I had to hole it. It was just probably a half cup outside left, and I putted really well all week. Given the conditions, windy conditions, it does get tricky to putt those shorter putts,” he said.
“But I felt as though standing over the putt I kind of already holed it in my mind, if you know what I mean. It was already in, so I just stepped over like I would any other putt, and just try to hit the ball where I thought it needed to start.”
He indeed poured it into the heart of the cup to close out his round of 2-under 68.
His total of 269 will go into the books as the tournament’s highest winning score since Vijay Singh’s victory at 11 under in 2005. But the numbers mean little entering a match-play situation, and Smith drew on recent memories in his duel with Steele.
Smith went 1-1-1 in the Presidents Cup less than a month ago back home in Australia and defeated Justin Thomas 2 and 1 in singles on the final day, although the Americans pulled out a 16-14 victory.
“I think … just having to make the putts, feeling like something else is on the line, I think I drew a little bit from the Presidents Cup,” Smith said.
“I mean, I felt as though I played some of my best golf that week, and with such little time between these events I think that’s kind of rolled over definitely into this week. I just feel like I’ve got — I’m not necessarily hitting it super duper, but getting the ball around and scoring really nicely.”
After signing their scorecards, Steele again appeared to have the advantage when his tee shot split the fairway while Smith drifted right under a tree.
But Smith drilled his second shot from the rough 109 yards out onto the upper tier of the green, leaving him 10 feet for birdie. Steele’s shot from the fairway went over the green and his subsequent chip ran 14 feet past the hole. He missed his putt back up the slope before tapping in for bogey.
With two putts to win, Smith took both to end the Sony Open’s second playoff in three years and secure his first solo win.
He teamed with Jonas Blixt to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2017, also in a playoff with Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown.
“It’s right up there. My first individual win on the PGA Tour, it’s definitely going to be one I never forget for sure,” Smith said. “Given the conditions and how tough it was, I’ll definitely draw back on this in the future for sure.”