LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Australia’s Cameron Smith, whose uncle lost his home in the brushfires devastating their homeland, parred the first playoff hole to beat Brendan Steele on Sunday and win the United States (US) PGA Sony Open in Hawaii.
In rainy and breezy conditions at Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club, Smith sank an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-five 18th to force a playoff then two-putted from 10 feet to defeat a US rival who had led all day.
“You just have to hang in there,” Smith said. “No one was playing good golf today it seemed like. I just hung in there and what do you know.”
Smith fired a two-under par 68 in the final round to match Steele, who shot 71 last Sunday, on 11-under 269 for 72 holes.
It was the first solo US PGA victory for Smith, who shared the 2017 Zurich Classic pairs event title with Swede Jonas Blixt.
“That has been one I’ve wanted to tick off for a long time,” Smith said. “I’ve been out here four or five years now. To say I’ve won an event by myself now is quite good.”
Smith is among the Aussie golfers at the event donating a portion of their prize money to the relief effort for the blazes Down Under.
“Me winning here, I hope that brings a little bit of joy to some people who are going through some tough times,” said Smith, who moved his uncle into his US home after his farm was destroyed by fire.
For Steele, who led alone from the first tee until the penultimate putt of the day, it was a gut-wrenching defeat.
“It hurts a lot,” Steele said. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I was trying to grind and it wasn’t good enough.”
With his ball plugged in a bunker at the par-three 11th hole, Steele chipped in with a sand wedge from 30 feet for a birdie to reach 13-under and seize a three-stroke advantage.
But last-group playing partner Smith sank a five-foot birdie putt at the 12th and Steele took a bogey at 13, missing a five-foot par putt, to leave him only one stroke ahead.
Smith, however, found a bunker at the par-four 15th and missed a six-foot par putt for a bogey to stumble two back with three to play.
Steele then opened the door with a bogey at the par-three 17th, missing the green off the tee and then a six-foot par putt, to leave him clinging to a one-stroke lead over Smith and Americans Ryan Palmer and Webb Simpson.
Palmer struck the top of a scoreboard on his approach at 18 and lost his ball on the way to a bogey and Simpson missed a 15-foot birdie putt, leaving Steele and Smith to settle matters in the final group.
After a 15-minute wait before teeing off at 18 so excess water could be removed from the green, Steele drove the ball into the middle of the fairway.
But Steele endured another 15-minute wait over the lost ball, then sprayed his second shot over spectator tents and way left of the green. While he recovered for par, Smith escaped a front bunker to eight feet and made the clutch putt to force extra holes.
Light remained for only one hole and excess water at 18 forced a switch to the 10th hole to begin the playoff.
Smith put his approach to 10 feet while Steele went over the green, blasted back to 14 feet but then missed the par putt and watched the Aussie two putt for the win.
Simpson was third on 270 with Palmer, fellow American Kevin Kisner and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell sharing fourth on 271, the European closing with a 64.