Weekly Recap: Waialae Walk-Off

Weekly Recap: Waialae Walk-Off

This article is part of our Weekly Recap series.

We've often written about Hideki Matsuyama, one of the great ball strikers in golf, noting that if he could putt just a little bit – even mediocre instead of terrible – he'd be a perennial major threat and back in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

But what if he putted better than mediocre and was, dare we say, great? Well, that would be a scary thought for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Matsuyama used the best putting performance of his career to rally from a five-stroke deficit on the back nine, chasing down a snake-bit Russell Henley to win the Sony Open on the first playoff hole at Waialae. The Japanese superstar led the field in putting, gaining a stunning 7.264 shots on the field, while also making nearly 400 feet worth of putts.

While putting was the four-day reason why Matsuyama shot a 23-under-par 257 on the par-70 track, he secured the victory in more traditional fashion from the fairway with one of the great shots of his career. Standing 277 yards from the pin on the par-5 18th hole in sudden death, Matsuyama launched a majestic 3-wood through the sunny Hawaiian sky and watched the ball nestle softly to three feet for a walk-off eagle.

Matsuyama has now won three times in the past 10 months, beginning with

We've often written about Hideki Matsuyama, one of the great ball strikers in golf, noting that if he could putt just a little bit – even mediocre instead of terrible – he'd be a perennial major threat and back in the top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

But what if he putted better than mediocre and was, dare we say, great? Well, that would be a scary thought for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Matsuyama used the best putting performance of his career to rally from a five-stroke deficit on the back nine, chasing down a snake-bit Russell Henley to win the Sony Open on the first playoff hole at Waialae. The Japanese superstar led the field in putting, gaining a stunning 7.264 shots on the field, while also making nearly 400 feet worth of putts.

While putting was the four-day reason why Matsuyama shot a 23-under-par 257 on the par-70 track, he secured the victory in more traditional fashion from the fairway with one of the great shots of his career. Standing 277 yards from the pin on the par-5 18th hole in sudden death, Matsuyama launched a majestic 3-wood through the sunny Hawaiian sky and watched the ball nestle softly to three feet for a walk-off eagle.

Matsuyama has now won three times in the past 10 months, beginning with the Masters in April. He also took home the title at The ZOZO Championship in his homeland in October and now the Sony Open. His eighth PGA Tour win tied K.J. Choi for most ever by an Asian-born player. He moved from 19th in the world all the way up to No. 10.

Before we get too excited imagining what this week could mean for Matsuyama's career, we need to pump the brakes by saying Waialae offers some of the easiest greens golfers will see all year. They are pretty flat and really slow. And easy greens tend to bring the poorer putters into the mix, as the best putters can really showcase their edge on the toughest, trickiest surfaces. Also, Matsuyama began the week ranked 205th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, which was bad – even for him – after two straight seasons in the 170s. 

That is all a roundabout way of saying that we think Matsuyama, while great, really fits and should peak in the tier just outside the very best golfers – say, in the top 12 but not the top 5. Of course, he's been in the top 5 before, reaching No. 2 in the world. 

Still only 29, Matsuyama will blow past Choi, perhaps even this year, and continue on his way to the Hall of Fame, still struggling with his putter but occasionally finding gold on the greens.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Russell Henley
If you would say a guy entered the final round leading by two strokes, went out in 29, shot 65, ranked second in the field in SG: Approach and third in both SG: Tee-to-Green and Putting, well, any golfer observer would know what would win the tournament, oh, at least 99.5 percent of the time. Henley's inability to close is well known, but it might not be fair to say that's what happened Sunday. He's been pretty steady the year and half, ranked almost exclusively in the 50s of the OWGR, but this runner-up moved him to 40th and in good position to return to the Masters.

Kevin Kisner
Kisner tied for third, showing once again that when he can putt well on a short course he is still relevant. He ranked 11th in SG: Putting and 10th in Tee-to-Green. He now has two top-10s in two tournaments this year, a great start to 2022. He's up to 36th in the world.

Seamus Power
One of the breakthrough players in the second half of 2021, Power tied for third to crack the top-50 for the first time in his career at No. 49. He's now finished in the top-25 in seven of his past eight starts and it will be interesting to see how he stacks up once the fields start getting much tougher later this month.

Michael Thompson
Thompson tied for fifth, his best showing since tying for fifth a year ago at the American Express, where he will play this week. While history tells us that Thompson gets these great weeks every so often and then recedes for long stretches, he might be able to double it up this week at La Quinta.

Lucas Glover
Glover used a great week – tying for fifth – to creep back into the top 100 of the OWGR at No. 96. It was his first tournament with so much as a top-30 since he won the John Deere in July. If you had Glover this week, that was quite a call. But let's not think this will be the start of anything sustained.

Keith Mitchell
Mitchell, one of the great drivers on Tour, has been working with Parker McLachlin on his short game. He tied for seventh at the Sony after ranking second in the field in scrambling (and 13th in putting). He was his usual top-10 in SG: Off-the-Tee, as well. Mitchell is up to 80th in the world, a spot he hadn't been in since mid-2019.

Matt Kuchar
Kuchar moved from 120th in the world to 107th after tying for seventh, his first top-10 in a stroke-play event – he finished third in last year's Match Play event – in almost two years. At 43, Kuchar's best chance to compete is on a shorter, more tactical course. But even then we can't really get too excited like we did with him for years.
 
Adam Svensson
The Canadian bears watching as one of the top guys to graduate from the Korn Ferry Tour after winning twice last year, including a playoff event. He tied for seventh at the Sony, by far his best showing this season after missing four of his first seven cuts. He's 168th in the world and probably a bit overmatched, especially when the fields stiffen, but you never know, so keep an eye on him.

Hayden Buckley
Another Korn Ferry grad, Buckley shined during the Fall Swing with a top-5 and a top-10 in only five starts. And now he's opened 2022 with another gem, tying for 12th. Like with others mentioned above, we'll take a wait-and-see approach until we see him deliver against tougher competition. But he's already one of the top KF guys to make the jump. Buckley is up to 157th in the OWGR.

Charles Howell
It's hard to count on the 42-year-old Howell these days, though Waialae is an exception. He made it 21 cuts in 21 career Sony starts with a tie for 36th. Howell missed seven cuts last year in only 19 starts, and he hadn't missed that many since 2012, when he played 29 times.

Harris English
Since winning the Travelers last June and tying for fourth at the WGC-FedEx soon after, English has been very ordinary, and that continued with a tie for 55th. In his nine starts since Memphis, he's had zero top-10s and only two top-20s. It's a small sample size for sure, but it bears watching. English, who was in the top 10 not too long ago, now sits 16th in the OWGR.

Webb Simpson
Simpson slipped last year, so we were keeping a close eye on how he did on one of the best tracks. Not so great. After top-fives in three straight trips to Waialae, he struggled to make the cut on the number and wound up tied for 61st. It's looking like Simpson is a fade this year.

Cameron Smith
It's not unusual for a player to take a step back after winning a tournament, maybe miss a cut or string together multiple poor weeks. But that's more for a young player, and we didn't expect that of Smith, who won the Sentry Tournament of Champions last week and won the Sony Open just two years ago. But miss the cut he did. It would be surprising if Smith didn't bounce back quickly.

Sungjae Im
Waialae should be a green-light special for Im, but the results tell a different story. He's made four Sony starts, and the finishes keep getting worse: T16 in his 2019 debut, then T21, T56 and now a missed cut. It's clearly just an aberration for Im, who will try to bounce back at this week's American Express. Just remember this result for next year at Waialae.

Takumi Kanaya
Whenever a player climbs the world rankings based on results on other tours, there's always a question mark till they deliver on the PGA Tour. Kanaya, the Japanese star, finished 2021 ranked No. 50 in the world. He was on target to make the cut at Waialae until collapsing with three bogeys in his final five holes to miss the weekend by two, leaving many of those question marks in place.

Chan Kim
Kim is a California who plays mostly in Japan, where he won twice in the latter stages of 2021. He was also 15th at the 2021 ZOZO in Japan, and entered the Sony ranked 62nd in the world. But in another example of the PGA Tour being a far cry from the Japan Tour, Kim missed the cut. In fairness, he did register a top-25 at last year's PGA Championship at the Ocean Course, though that appears to be an outlier.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only Golf Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire Golf fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
Yahoo DFS Golf: PGA Championship
Yahoo DFS Golf: PGA Championship
FanDuel PGA: PGA Championship
FanDuel PGA: PGA Championship
2022 PGA Championship Betting: Picks, Odds, Predictions and Best Bets
2022 PGA Championship Betting: Picks, Odds, Predictions and Best Bets
Weekly Preview: PGA Championship
Weekly Preview: PGA Championship