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Russell Henley makes opening splash with first PGA Tour victory
HONOLULU — Russell Henley has delivered big moments before, just not to this degree, and certainly not on this kind of a stage.
Not even three months after he celebrated getting a PGA Tour card, Henley made his rookie debut with a three-shot win Sunday in the Sony Open that will not be forgotten anytime soon because of the sheer numbers.
He birdied the last five holes to shatter the tournament scoring record by four shots.
His score of 24-under 256 was the second-lowest in PGA Tour history for a 72-hole event, two shots behind Tommy Armour III in 2003 at the Texas Open.
He set the Sony Open record for the 36-hole score (126), shared the 54-hole tournament record with fellow rookie Scott Langley (193) and set another tournament record with the lowest closing round by a champion at 7-under 63.
About the only time he looked like a rookie was when he walked off the 18th green and said, “I don’t really know what happened.”
What he did was play some really good golf and rode a putting stroke that was pure over four days at Waialae Country Club.
He made 26 birdies — 18 of them on the par 4s, the most at this tournament in the last 30 years — and a collection of pars equally important. Henley, a 23-year-old from Georgia, made a 15-foot par putt with a foot of break on the sixth hole, and another par putt from 10 feet on the 12th hole to stay two shots clear of Langley and Tim Clark.
The rest was simply a blur. The final hour began with a 45-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, and of his last four birdies, the only one inside 10 feet was on the 18th hole. Henley punched the air with a sweeping uppercut, the first time all day he allowed himself to think about winning and all that goes with it — particularly that trip to the Masters.
“It’s been my goal to make it to the Masters my whole life,” he said. “I’m kind of speechless right now.”
“He just never seemed to put a foot wrong, and when he did, he made those par putts,” he said. “That’s when you know a guy is comfortable, when he’s making those 8- to 10-footers 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.”
Henley tied for low amateur — with Langley — in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. A year later, he won a Nationwide Tour event while still at Georgia. And in his first year on the developmental tour, he won twice with clutch moments. He won his first Web.com Tour event by going from a fairway bunker into the water and making a 10-foot bogey putt to get into a playoff. He won a few weeks later by making a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole to force another playoff.
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