13 January 2020: As bushfires continue to rage in Australia, Cameron Smith showcased some good old Aussie resilience to turn the tables on Brendan Steele with a memorable performance over the final stretch to win his first individual PGA TOUR title. Smith made a birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff before he won it all. Steele was leading by one when he blew his final approach off the green with a wild hook to court trouble and Smith made the most of the opportunity to wrestle a memorable victory. The final day saw some wet and windy conditions at the Waialae Country Club as Smith added to his 2017 Zurich Classic of New Orleans, which he won with Jonas Blixt.
In fact, Steele was up by three through eleven holes and never quite trailed till the wheels came off when he had one hand on the trophy. Winning can be very hard, much harder than losing. First, he missed a six-footer on the 17th to concede a bogey and eat into his lead. And then the green in his sights, he went too far left on the final hole to retrieve the birdie he needed to win outright.
The 11-under 269 where Smith and Steele locked horns happens to be the highest winning score at the Sony Open since Vijay Singh won here in 2005. The event featured a third straight playoff in this still-young season.
“Just had to hang in there. No one was playing good golf today, it seemed like,” Smith said. “Just hung in there, and what do you know?”
The duo proceeded to the tenth, where a par was good enough to seal the victory. Incidentally, the nearly nine-foot birdie putt Smith made at the 18th marked his longest putt on the day. But it was the one that mattered and Smith seized the moment with great belief, despite starting the day three back from Steele.
The victory secures a visit to the Masters for Smith. “That’s been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time, to finally say I’ve won an event by myself,” Smith said. “It’s quite good.”
The American can draw consolation from moving up to 29th on the FedExCup rankings and collecting his first top ten finish since the Phoenix Open in 2018, where he finished T3. Steele has only managed to convert a 54-hole lead once in five opportunities, winning the Texas Open in 2011.
Lanto Griffin continued his run of consistency. At 8-under this week, he was T7, an eighth top-20 finish in 10 starts this season. Webb Simpson finished in third at 10-under with a 67. Smith made a 68 to Steele’s one-over 71.
Graeme McDowell (64), Ryan Palmer and Kevin Kisner were locked at T4, just one behind Simpson. Lanto Griffin and Ted Potter Jr played some brilliant golf for a 64 and 66 on Sunday to finish in T7. Cameron Davis, Henrik Norlander and Bo Hoag rounded off the top ten at 7-under 273.
R1 (1): Collin Morikawa (65)
R2 (6): Rob Oppenheim (65), Joseph Bramlett (67), Hideki Matsuyama (67), Brandt Snedeker (67), Charles Howell III (67), K.H. Lee (68)
R4 (5): Sepp Straka (65), Corey Conners (66), Joel Dahmen (66), Peter Malnati (68), Brendon Todd (68)