Following a final-round 8-under 62, Fabian Gomez claimed his second PGA TOUR title in his 84th career start at the age of 37 years, 1 month and 21 days, winning the 51st playing of the Sony Open in Hawaii in a two-man playoff over Brandt Snedeker.
The pair tied for the top spot after each birdied the 72nd hole of regulation and the would-be-champ ended it with a two-putt birdie on the second hole of sudden death. Gomez was first in the clubhouse at 20-under 260, circling a 10’10” birdie putt on the par-3 17th, and chased with an improbable birdie (putt) from 22 feet, two inches short of the green at the par-5 18th. It was his ninth and 10th circle on the card in a round that earlier had featured seven straight birdies on Nos. 6-12. The birdie-birdie finish erased back-to-back bogeys on 13 and 14, the latter of the three-putt variety, and set the stage for Snedeker, who was playing in the final threesome one group behind Gomez.
Snedeker, who lead/co-lead after each of the first three rounds, was up to the task, brushing in a four-footer at the par-5 last, his third birdie over his final five holes, to match the Argentine and the two players headed back to the 18th tee. The duo exchanged two-putt pars on the par-5 18th before Gomez won with a two-putt birdie on the second playing of the hole. Snedeker had a 9’6” chance to extend the playoff, but it slid by on the right. Second-year man Zach Blair, who co-lead with Snedeker thru 54 holes, had a 10-foot, four-inch eagle putt at the last to join the playoff, but settled for a two-putt birdie and solo third.
Gomez won his maiden title in his 70th career start with a four-shot triumph at the 2015 FedEx St. Jude Classic back in June, where he co-lead after 54 holes. This week he entered the finale four swings adrift. His 62 on Sunday was low lap of the day; matched the best round of the tournament (Graham DeLaet/R2, Matt Kuchar/R3); was the lowest final round by a winner in tournament history; and was a new personal best in 263 career rounds on TOUR. It also extended his TOUR-leading streak of par-or-better to 25 consecutive rounds.
In what was perhaps the key decision of the week for the Argentine, he told his caddie on the ride back for the second playing of the par-5 18th that he was going to hit hybrid off the tee -- after missing the fairway four times in regulation and again on the first hole of sudden death. It paid off in spades as he found the short grass, while Snedeker’s driver went right and into a fairway bunker, precipitating a lay-up. Prior to this week, Gomez had not finished better than T67 (2013) in three previous visits to the Sony and he left with a field-leading 25 birdies, one eagle, and seven bogeys. With the win, he vaults from 112th in the Official World Golf Ranking to a career-best 55th and is one step closer to securing a spot at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
What We Learned:
Brandt Snedeker: One week after a T3 at the winners-only event on Maui, the 35-year-old chased with a personal best at the Sony in his third visit and first since finishing T69 in 2008. He opened championship Sunday co-leading with Blair, one shot clear of Kevin Kisner, who completed the final threesome. The seven-time TOUR winner fell off the pace early with an even-par 35 but rebounded with a bogey-free inward 31. While he came up short in the playoff, dropping his record to 2-1 in extra time, he did post his seventh runner-up finish in his 245th professional start. Recent tweaks with swing coach Butch Harmon saw him finish third in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green and he squared just two bogeys to lead the field in that category. But, his usually trusty putter let him down, ranking 26th in strokes gained: putting and T28 in putts per GIR. Snedeker is now 3-for-7 in his career when leading-co-leading after 54 holes and he’ll have some time to think about it as he’s not in the published field at this week’s CareerBuilder Challenge in California.
Zac Blair: The 25-year-old co-lead after three days with Snedeker on 16-under after opening in 65-65 and a career-tying-low 64. It was his first 54-hole lead/co-lead on TOUR in his 41st career start. The second-year man, who finished T6 in his Sony debut last year, took his first outright lead in the tourney with birdie at the par-4 12th, but exchanged one bogey with one birdie the rest of the way, eventually finishing one shot shy of the two-man playoff on 19-under 261. Blair’s 72-hole totals show 23 birdies against four bogeys and he ended the week ranked second in strokes gained: putting with a cumulative 6.450 mark. His solo third on Oahu was a new personal best on TOUR, supplanting a T4 at the 2015 Barclays and his second top 10 of the 2015-16 season in six events. The BYU product heads to the mainland for this week’s CareerBuilder Challenge where he missed the cut in his tourney debut last year.
Si Woo Kim: The Web.com Tour grad’s solo fourth is a career best in just his 14th PGA TOUR event. His prior best was T17 two starts ago at the OHL Classic. The 20-year-old ended the day in the exact spot on the leaderboard that he began it after opening 64-65-67. He was bogey-free 3-under thru 10 holes, including back-to-back circles at nine and 10, but played his final eight holes in birdie-less 1-over. Along with 17 birdies on the week, the South Korean added two eagles and squared five bogeys en route to top honors of the 20 first-timers at Waialae CC.
Surprises and Disappointments:
Everyone has a theory when it comes to fantasy golf. These golfers populated lineups across all formats and some rewarded gamers, while others fell flat.
Jimmy Walker: The two-time defending champ entered the week as the odds-fave at 14/1 but began the final round a distant eight in arrears after opening in 69-68-65. He wrapped his 10th visit to Oahu with a final-round 4-under 66, including an inward blemish-free 30, but any chance of a three-peat went out the window with three bogeys over his first four holes. Despite the shaky start, the five-time TOUR winner played his final 14 holes in bogey-free 6-under to back-door a T13. It was a champion’s response considering he was T66 after two days and had survived the 36-hole cut on the number.
Adam Scott: The Aussie, who finished joint runner-up at the 2009 Sony, was the top-ranked player in the 144-man field entering the week at 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking. It wasn’t the tourney he (or gamers) had envisioned as he finished a disappointing T56 at 7-under 273. Scott opened in 68-68 and to his credit, birdied his last two holes on day two to finish one inside the cut line, but he was never in contention, closing in 68-69. For the week, the 35-year-old totaled just 16 birdies against seven bogeys and a double.
Greg Owen: The Englishman finished in a two-way tie for fifth on 15-under 265 after rounds of 69-65-67-64. The last time he had put four rounds in the 60s was nearly seven years ago at the 2009 John Deere Classic, so this week’s showing awarded only the true faithful as he entered a pre-tourney 400/1 outright long shot. The 43-year-old, making his fifth appearance on Oahu, had not finished better than T39 (2009) but left the island ranked first in strokes gained: tee-to-green (11.875). His 72-hole tally shows 19 birdies and three eagles against eight bogeys (one in the finale) and a double. Owen is in the published field at this week’s CareerBuilder Challenge where he’s just 3-for-6 with a best of T62 in his 2006 debut.
Kevin Kisner: The 31-year-old was in pursuit of his second TOUR title in his last three starts (RSM) and after opening in 7-under 63, co-lead with four others following day one. He stayed in the mix with 66-66, sitting solo second and solo third after 36 and 54 holes, respectively. The Georgia Bulldog circled four in the finale, but erased them with two doubles, including a disastrous bunker-to-bunker double bogey-5 on the par-3 17th. He finished with a 12-inch birdie at the par-5 last to share joint fifth. It was his fourth consecutive top 10 on the season and enough to maintain his lead in the FedExCup standings. For the week, he had one eagle, 21 birdies and four bogeys and led the field in driving accuracy at 47 of 56 (83.93 percent), and also completed 72 holes at Waialae CC for the first time in five appearances.
Jamie Lovemark: Six days shy of his 28th birthday (Jan. 23rd), Lovemark celebrated early with his first made cut at the Sony in his third try. Not only did play all four rounds for the first time, he closed in 65-65 after opening in 67-69. In his two previous visits to Oahu (2014, 2011), he had not put up a red number, so this week's showing has to be sitting well with the Web.com Tour grad. Lovemark circled seven birdies in the finale against two bogeys, and had a chance for his third eagle of the week at the par-5 last, but missed from 9'4". Nonetheless, he chases a T9 in his last start at The RSM Classic on rounds of 69-68-67-68 and has now put up eight consecutive red numbers on TOUR. The USC product will look to make it three straight top 10s at this week's CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta, California.
Fred Funk: At 59 years, 7 months, and 1 day, Funk became the oldest player to make the 36-hole cut at the Sony, easily eclipsing the previous mark of Tom Kite (55 years, 1 month, 7 days). Not only did he make the weekend, he shot a final-round 5-under 65, matching his output from R1, and vaulted 26 places to T42.
BRIEF SIDE NOTE
Nick Mason: In his fifth-ever PGA TOUR start, Mason was one of four Open Qualifiers this week and the only one to make the cut. He put up four straight red numbers in his third Sony appearance, after missing the cut in 2010 and 2012. His T42 was good for 1.36 world-ranking points, bumping him from a cellar-dwelling 1711 in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 1351. Pretty heady stuff considering he had never made the cut before on TOUR.
The PGA TOUR heads to the mainland for this week’s CareerBuilder Challenge where Bill Haas defends. Also in the field is 2014 champ Patrick Reed, who is the top-ranked player in the field at No. 10. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news, course news and opinions as the three-course CB Challenge incorporates the par-72 TPC Stadium Course at PGA West, returning as host after a 29-year absence.