After a third-round 64 that gave him a three-stroke lead, Brendan Steele knew there was still plenty of work to be done at the Sony Open in Hawaii, “I’ve been out here long enough to know that it’s always difficult [to close out a win],” he said on Saturday.
Unfortunately for Steele, his words turned out to be prophetic.
Despite not playing his best golf in both rainy and windy conditions, Steele arrived at the 72nd hole at 11-under, still with a one-shot lead. After a long wait on the tee, the 36-year-old striped one down the middle. Australia’s Cameron Smith, Steele’s playing partner who was among a group one off the lead, was in a nearly identical position in the fairway, knowing he needed at least a birdie.
That’s when Ryan Palmer, also at 10-under with Smith, began making his way back to the fairway bunker from where he had just his his second shot out-of-bounds. Instead of hitting a provisional, Palmer tried to find his ball and failed, stalling the group behind. Fifteen minutes (and then some) passed before Steele and Smith hit their second shots.
By then the damage was done for Steele, who promptly hooked one well left of the green. Smith, meanwhile, found a greenside bunker. He went on to make birdie:
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Steele settled for par and a sudden-death playoff with the 26-year-old Aussie. Steele, still reeling from the delay, made bogey, allowing Smith to coast to victory with a two-putt par.
“You just had to hang in there, no one was playing good golf today,” said Smith, who shot a two-under 68 to force the playoff. “The conditions got a lot easier at the end there, but, just hung in there and what do you know.”
It’s his first individual tour title. Smith had one tour win to his name entering the week, but it came alongside Jonas Blixt at the 2017 Zurich Classic, a two-man team event.
“That’s been one that I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time,” Smith said of the individual win. “I’ve been out here four or five years now, to finally say that I’ve won an event by myself is quite good.”
Given the bushfires ravaging Australia, the win had some added meaning as well.
“It’s been an Aussie’s week. I think Wade [Ormsby] won this morning over in Asia [at the Hong Kong Open], me winning here. I hope that brings a little bit of joy to some people going through some tough times.”
As for Steele, this was one that will be tough to forget.
“It hurts a lot, kind of everything that could go wrong went wrong today,” Steele said. “I’m just a California kid who doesn’t like rain, so I was just trying to grind and I worked as hard as I could and it just wasn’t good enough.”