Russell Henley shot 23 under at the 2022 Sony Open this week, finishing in the top three in the field in putting, iron play and strokes gained from tee to green ... and somehow did not win. That's because Hideki Matsuyama shot 63-63 on the weekend and hit the shot of the season on the first hole of a playoff for the eighth – and perhaps most exciting – win of his PGA Tour career.
Rewind to the turn in Sunday's final round. Henley took a commanding five-stroke lead to the second nine. Data Golf said his chances of winning at that moment were about 97%. It was not a foregone conclusion because nothing in golf is a foregone conclusion, but as far as sure bets go, it was up there.
Henley played the next nine holes in 1 over after touching the edge of the cup with putts on two of the last three holes. Nothing fell. He'd torched the golf course for 63 straight holes with at least two birdies or eagles on every previous nine-hole stretch. He made none over the final nine. Matsuyama played them in 4 under, including a birdie at the 72nd hole, to tie the tournament at 23 under and send it into bonus holes.
In the playoff, Henley drove one into a bunker. After getting out of trouble but with work to do to make birdie at the par-5 finisher – which was also being used as the first hole of the playoff – Henley looked to be fighting an uphill battle. Matsuyama could control the tournament by finding the green and two-putting for birdie. So of course he blistered a 3-wood from 276 yards to 32 inches for eagle to win the event.
It will go down as one of the 10 best shots of the entire season.
UNREAL SHOT. 😳— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 17, 2022
Hideki delivers a beauty from 277 yards out on the first playoff hole! pic.twitter.com/qT8ByiAVrm
For Henley, it was a dagger in what had otherwise been such a tremendous week. He was trying to bookend his 2013 victory at this tournament with another one, which would have been the fourth of his underrated career. He did everything right, but he still couldn't close out the reigning Masters champion.
There was good reason for that, too. Matsuyama is obviously a menace from tee to green, and he was again this week at Waialae Country Club. But the bigger problem for Henley was that Matsuyama led the field in putting for the first time in his career. He gained nearly half of his strokes on the greens, which is always going to be a problem for everyone else.
For Matsuyama, it's the latest addition to an underrated résumé that includes two WGC victories, a Memorial win, two Phoenix Opens, a Zozo Championship in his home country of Japan and that famous Masters triumph last April. He's earned over $37 million in his career and has essentially been a top-10 player in the world for the last seven years.
It's easy for Matsuyama to get a bit lost in the shuffle when Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are swiping headlines, but he's accomplished all of this before the age of 30, which both goes unnoticed and should be celebrated more than it is. This win ties him with K.J. Choi for the most all-time by an Asian-born player (8). Matsuyama has played just 203 official PGA Tour events, while Choi has played nearly 500 (though he won his eight in the first 300).
This was a terrific week for the PGA Tour, too. The week after the scoring record was reset at the Tournament of Champions, two perennially underrated golfers combined to shoot a best-ball 59 on Sunday with the tournament on the line, and the shot of the year was struck in a sleepy week with a below-average field. Another star built his narrative and his résumé with several big-time events just around the corner. If that's what a mediocre weeks look like, imagine what the good ones are going to hold the rest of the year.
This is how it goes in golf, though. You never know when you're going to see one of the great shots of the last few years. You never know when a run-of-the-mill golf tournament is going to deliver the finish of the season. You never know when the Masters champ is going to close like the superstar he is. Grade (Matsuyama and this event): A+
Rick Gehman is joined by Mark Immelman, Greg DuCharme and Kyle Porter to discuss Hideki Matsuyama's playoff victory over Russell Henley at the 2022 Sony Open. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2022 Sony Open.
Corey Conners (T10): Conners was solid all week and gained strokes putting for the fourth time in four starts at this event, which is unheard of for him. His stalled a bit in the middle two rounds, otherwise he would have contended for his second career win on Sunday at Waialae. Grade: A
"I had a lot of confidence in my game for a long time now," said Conners. "Be nice to string four good rounds together. Kind of struggled a bit yesterday. But take a lot of positives. Worked on my game quite a bit in the offseason ... Good to get out and play well early, and hopefully can keep the momentum going the next few weeks."
Kevin Na (T20): Na came out firing on Thursday with a 61 that gave him the lead, but he played the next 54 holes in just 3 under on a fairly easy golf course. To accentuate the point, Na finished the tournament with almost the exact same number of strokes gained from tee to green than he had on Thursday alone. He was below field average over the final three rounds which, unless you've just played the greatest first round of all time, is not going to put you in the winner's circle. He did give us the jab of the week on Twitter, though, which was a delight. Also, this was his eighth top-25 finish in his last 10 starts. Grade: B
Had to check this was real. Confirmed. ☠️☠️☠️☠️ pic.twitter.com/iKyc4EVQn1— Rick Gehman (@RickRunGood) January 15, 2022
Keita Nakajima (41st): Nakajima is notable because he's the No. 1 amateur in the world. He also played in the no-cut Zozo Championship in the fall, but this was his first made cut at a PGA Tour event. He had one bad day – a 2-over 72 on Saturday in which he made one birdie on a day when the scoring average was nearly 2 under. If not for that blip, he would have contended for a top 10. His arc will be an interesting one to follow, especially with an Augusta National berth in April. He also gave my favorite quote of the tournament in light of Matsuyama's win. "I learn lot from this tournament and course, players," said Nakajima. "I need more great mentality, like Mr. Hideki." Grade: A-