Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama delivered a grandstand finish in a playoff against a luckless Russell Henley to lift his career eighth title at the Sony Open in Hawaii on Sunday and equal K.J. Choi’s record of total victories by an Asian golfer on the PGA TOUR.
The 29-year Matsuyama rallied from five strokes back with nine holes remaining at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu to tie overnight leader Henley on 23-under 257 in regulation play, and then thumped a spectacular three wood approach from 276 yards on the 18th hole to inside of three feet for his winning eagle in extra time as Henley struggled home with a bogey.
Matsuyama, who signed for a final round 7-under 63, couldn’t see his approach which soared into the skies and against a setting sun but the roars of approval from the crowds around the green was enough indication to know he had delivered the knockout punch.
“To be honest I didn't even see it,” said Matsuyama. “But everybody started cheering and I knew it was good.”
His third victory in nine months – Matsuyama won the Masters Tournament for his first major title last April and the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP at home in October – pushed him to top spot in the latest FedExCup standings, and made him only the second Japanese winner at the Sony Open after Isao Aoki’s historic feat in 1983. He is projected to move up to 10th place on the Official World Golf Ranking, the first time back amongst the top-10 since 2018.
After Henley found a fairway trap in the playoff hole, Matsuyama seized his moment with a perfect drive that split the fairway and then followed up with a precise second to close the deal. “It was a perfect number for me for a cut 3-wood, 276 yards left to right, follow wind. I knew the green was soft enough to hold it, and I was able to pull it off,” he said.
“Russell was playing so beautifully the front nine, but at the turn I was thinking, he can't keep this up, can he? I was able to birdie 10 and then a two-shot swing at 11 and then the game was on again. I was five back but I just put my head down and I was playing pretty well; I was 3-under at the time, so I figured, well, if I could make a few more birdies maybe I can get back into it.”
He credited the strong support he received from the galleries, which included a large number of Japanese fans, for pulling him through when he had his back against the wall. “Yeah, even at the turn when I was five back, I could hear the cheers from my countrymen. That really spurred me on,” said Matsuyama.
“I feel great. To be able to win back-to-back with ZOZO and here with at the Sony, and especially on a course that I haven't really played that well. It's a tough golf course for me. So I'm extra excited, extra happy because of that.”
Winning a historic first Masters title last year – his first win in nearly six years on TOUR and the first Japanese to wear the green jacket – eased the weight on his shoulders and Matsuyama said he has been able to free-wheel his game since the breakthrough. “It has because the pressure of not winning a major has been gone,” said Matsuyama.
His success on the world-famous holiday isle was largely due to him enjoying a career best putting week where he gained 7.264 strokes over the field as he took his place alongside Korean legend Choi as Asians with most wins on TOUR. Choi’s eighth title was achieved in 2011.
“I'll have my share of sake tonight,” he said with a smile.
Henley, who held the second and third round leads, seemed to be in control in his quest for a second Sony title and fourth PGA TOUR victory following a brilliant outward 29 with four birdies and one eagle. However, the birdies dried up on the inward stretch and a bogey on 11 left the door ajar for Matsuyama to barge right through. Henley still had a chance to win outright on the 72nd hole but missed his 10-foot birdie chance as he posted a final round 65.
“I thought I'd won the tournament. Thought I hit a great putt,” said a disappointed Henley, who was victorious at the tournament in 2013. “He just played incredible golf today. I wish I could have put some more pressure on him. Tough to beat 3-wood to two feet on 18.”