HONOLULU, Hawaii – Rookie Russell Henley launched his US PGA Tour career with a record-setting victory on Sunday, closing a seven-under par 63 with five straight birdies for a three-shot win at the Sony Open.
Henley, making his first start as a member of the PGA Tour, showed the poise of a veteran as he shattered the tournament scoring record with his total of 24-under-par 256.
After setting both the 36- and 54-hole scoring marks for the event – the first full-field tournament of the 2013 season –
Henley broke the 72-hole record by four strokes at Waialae Country Club.
Henley, 23, also set a record for the lowest 72-hole total by a rookie in PGA Tour history in a win that earned him an invitation to the Masters, the first major of the year scheduled for April 11-14 at Augusta National.
He became the first rookie to win his first start as a tour member since Garrett Willis in 2001, but Henley, a two-time winner on the Web.com developmental tour last year, said it was not as easy as he made it look.
“It felt pretty hard,” Henley said. “That was definitely 10
times as nervous as I've ever been.”
South Africa's Tim Clark birdied the final four holes, and seven of the last 11 overall, to match Henley's 63. That left him in sole possession of second place on 21-under 259.
Scott Langley, a fellow rookie who shared the overnight lead with Henley, carded an even-par 70 and finished tied for third on 17-under 263 with Charles Howell, who posted a 66.
Henley and Langley, who shared low amateur honors at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach, played together in all four rounds. They exchanged the lead over the first two rounds before emerging tied for the lead after 54 holes.
Henley started fast with a two-foot birdie at the first, while Langley took a bogey. Langley fell a further stroke back with a bogey at seven before Henley bogeyed the eighth to end a run of 50
holes without a bogey.
That was his only mis-step on the day as Henley birdied seven of his remaining 10 holes.
Howell pulled within one stroke of the lead with an eagle at the ninth, and Clark applied the pressure with three birdies in a row from the eighth.
But Henley held up, launching his closing run of five birdies with a 43-foot birdie putt at the 14th. He converted a 12-footer for birdie at 15, and birdied 16 after making a recovery from the trees.
When his eight-foot birdie putt dropped at 18 Henley celebrated with a fist pump.
Clark, the 2010 Players champion who was hindered by an elbow injury last year, said he was happy with the way he played, even if it did not yield a victory.
“I'm very upbeat. He played very impressively today,” Clark said. “I certainly don't feel like I let it go, so I'm happy how I played.” – Sapa-AFP