HONOLULU (AP) — Matt Kuchar overcame three early bogeys that cost him the lead with flawless golf and two key birdies on the back nine to close with a 4-under 66 and win the Sony Open for his second PGA Tour title this season.
It wasn’t as easy as his four-shot victory over Andrew Putnam might indicate.
Having made only one bogey through 54 holes to build a two-shot lead, Kuchar had three bogeys in his opening five holes Sunday and fell one shot behind Putnam, and he had to make a 10-foot birdie putt at the turn to avoid falling two shots behind.
Kuchar caught him with an aggressive pitch up the slope on the par-4 10th hole. They remained tied with five holes to play when Putnam made bogey from a deep bunker left of the 14th green, and Kuchar made a pair of 12-foot birdie putts on the next two holes to seize control.
Just like that, his lead was three shots, making for a pleasant walk up the par-5 18th.
Kuchar became the first multiple winner on the PGA Tour this season, having ended a drought of more than four years when he captured the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico last November. It was only the second time in his career Kuchar has won twice in the same season. He won the Match Play Championship and the Memorial in 2013. Now, he has the meat of the season in front of him.
“I want to see how great this year can be,” Kuchar said.
He finished at 22-under 258, the third-lowest total in Waialae history behind the PGA Tour record of 253 by Justin Thomas in 2017 and Jimmy Walker’s 72-hole score of 257 when he won in 2015.
Putnam, who won his first PGA Tour title last summer at the Barracuda Championship, didn’t blink until that approach into the bunker that led to his lone bogey, and he couldn’t make enough putts to stay close to Kuchar the rest of the way.
He closed with a 68 and moved into the top 50 for the first time in his career.
Corey Conners of Canada, who got into the field through a Monday qualifier, had a 64-64 weekend and was among four players who tied for third, though none had a serious chance of challenging what amounted to a two-player race at the top.
Even so, the performance was big for Conner, who narrowly missed a full PGA Tour card last year. Along with his runner-up finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall, he has nearly as many FedEx Cup points as last year when he finished at No. 130.
Marc Leishman (64), Hudson Swafford (64) and Chez Reavie (67) also finished in a tie for third.
Davis Love III, who first played the Sony Open in 1986, missed by one shot matching the lowest 72-hole score of his career. His 64-65 weekend gave him a tie for seventh, and he now heads off to Singapore with hopes of earning a spot in the British Open.
But this day ultimately belonged to Kuchar, who won for the ninth time in his career.
He ended the 2018 season earlier than he wanted, failing to reach the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009 and ending his streak of playing on eight straight teams in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
He won again in Mexico in a Sunday much tighter than he would have preferred, and had a few nervous moments at the start at Waialae. He went long of the second green, leading to bogey. The other two were sloppy — a three-putt across the back of the fourth green, and a wedge into No. 5 that he was begging to get down as soon as it left his club. It hopped into the back bunker, and he missed an 8-foot par putt to lose the lead.
From there, however, Kuchar had a birdie chance on the final 13 holes he made.
Kuchar and Putnam were in a bunker short of the green on the par-5 ninth. Putnam went first and it rolled out to 2 inches for birdie. Kuchar came out weakly, but made the 10-foot birdie putt. They traded birdies on the 12th and 13th, and Kuchar took over from there.
“It was so uncharacteristic of me,” Kuchar said, referring to his three-putt and bad wedge on No. 5. “But I kept plugging along, and I knew good things were going to happen. ... To win two out of three is crazy to comprehend.”