Now, that’s a debut
HONOLULU — Russell Henley only felt like a rookie at the Sony Open.
He sure didn’t play like one.
He was so nervous Sunday afternoon that he couldn’t feel his arms and legs, and everything around him seemed to be moving at warp speed.
Only when he finished his record-setting performance with one last birdie did he realize what happened. And even then, he didn’t know what to say.
The first player in 10 years to win in his debut as a PGA Tour rookie.
The second-best score for a 72-hole tournament in PGA Tour history, and a record score at the Sony Open by four shots.
Finishing with five straight birdies — only one of them inside 10 feet — for a 29 on the back nine and a 7-under 63, the lowest finish by a Sony Open winner.
And yes, that tee time reserved for him at the Masters in April.
“I’m pretty speechless,” Henley said. “I was trying not to think about Augusta out there because I just kept telling myself, ‘This is a long year, you’re going to play this game a long time, and be patient, it doesn’t have to happen now.’ Everything I could to psyche myself out of thinking about winning. It worked.”
The back nine was simply surreal.
Henley won by three shots over Tim Clark, who birdied seven of his last 11 holes and still made up only one shot on the rookie from Georgia.
“When you get up close and watch a guy play … if that’s how he putts all the time, whew! It’s over,” Clark said.
And it was.
Tied for the lead with fellow rookie Scott Langley to start the final round, Henley seized control with a birdie on the opening hole and then poured it on at the end.
Henley had a two-shot lead with seven holes to play when he calmly sank a 10-foot par putt on the 12th, and he began to pull away with a 45-foot birdie putt on the 14th.
When the rookie rolled in an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th to stay three shots ahead, Clark started laughing. There wasn’t anything else he could do.
“He just never seemed to put a foot wrong, and when he did, he made those par putts,” Clark said. “That’s when you know a guy is comfortable, when he’s making those 8- to 10-footer for par. But I still got on the 15th hole and said, ‘Well, let’s finish with four birdies and see what happens.’ And sure enough, he birdied the last four, too. When a guy plays that well and beats you, you just have to be happy for them.”