Waialae, HI—Kevin Na came back from being three strokes behind with six holes to play with three straight birdies and another on the 18th hole for a one-shot victory in the Sony Open at Honolulu on Sunday, Jan. 17.
Na carded a 5-under-par 65 on Sunday to finish at 21-under 259 at Waialae Country Club.
It only took Na 10 years, or 369 starts, to capture his first PGA Tour victory (2011). Now, the 37-year-old Na has won for the fourth straight season over a span of 55 starts, thanks to a final-round, 5-under 65. After making the Tour Championship last season, Na was without a top-10 finish in six starts this season, though he had made all but one cut. After this victory, Na is ranked No. 23 in the world – his goal this year is to ascend to the top 20 – and he’s suddenly on the U.S. Ryder Cup radar.
Na finished one stroke ahead of Joaquin Niemann and Chris Kirk, only one of them got a consolation prize.
Kirk carded his fourth consecutive round of 65 after collecting seven birdies with two bogeys.
Niemann’s five-birdie, one-bogey performance ended in a 66 on Sunday and his second straight runner-up finish. He lost in a playoff at last week’s Sentry Tournament of Champions.
Na won for the fifth time in his PGA Tour career, and this one looked sketchy when he three-putted for bogey on the 12th hole at a time where there was no room for miscues.
“I knew there was a lot of birdie holes left,” Na said. “I was having fun out there.”
Na, who almost withdrew from the event on Wednesday because of a rib injury, entered the final round two strokes behind of Steele, but Steele struggled off the tee down the stretch, Na regained his swing. Na birdied Nos. 13, 14, and 15 to take the lead, and then got up and down from behind the 18th green for another birdie to break a tie with Kirk.
Steele was the 54-hole leader, who lost the Sony in a playoff last year, seven holes to make a birdie on Sunday. After birdieing No. 7 and capping the front nine with an eagle, Steele had a bad three-putt at No. 10 and then missed several fairways as part of a birdie-less, 2-over 37 final nine.
Niemann chipped in for birdie from 55 feet on the par-3 17th and got up-and-down with a long bunker shot on the 18th hole for a 66. He was runner-up for the second straight week in Hawaii. The 22-year-old was 45-under par in two events without a trophy on his mantle to show for it.
Kirk closed with his fourth straight round of 65 — that wasn’t enough to win in Waialae with no wind — and his tough pitch from below the 18th for birdie proved to be huge.
“It totally changes everything being able to be back to picking my schedule like I’m used to over the last number of years,” Kirk said. “To go into a week and say I’ve got to finish top three to keep going and do is silly. I’m thankful God put me in a great situation, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
As for Brendan Steele, it was another year of disappointment in paradise, this one more of a slow leak. Steele last year had a two-shot lead with two to play and wound up losing in a playoff. This time, he made an 18-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole to take a three-shot lead into the back nine.
He three-putted the easy 10th hole from nearly 80 feet, and his game was so unpredictable the rest of the way that he didn’t have a birdie chance inside 30 feet until the 17th hole. That was from 10 feet to tie for the lead, and he missed that. Steele also failed to birdie the 18th and closed with a score of 69.
Webb Simpson, who was the last player to finish second in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, matched a low score of 64 to end up tied for fourth place along with Steele and Marc Leishman, shot 30 on the back nine.
Na finished at 21-under 259 and is assured of returning to the big island for two weeks next year, starting with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. Na, who turned pro out of high school, didn’t win until his eighth season. It was seven more seasons until he won again. Now he’s up to four seasons in a row.
Na said after the round that he “felt pretty comfortable all day,” and he needed the strong back nine to get in position for the win.