It’s fair to call Kevin Na a late bloomer at 37, and true to form he bloomed late at the Sony Open in Hawaii. After stalling mid-round, he birdied four of the last six holes for a 65 and a one-stroke victory over Chris Kirk (65) and Joaquin Niemann (66) at Waialae Country Club.
The victory was his fourth in his last 55 tournaments – after collecting just one win in the first 369 starts of his career – and vaulted him 88 spots to to 10th in the FedExCup.
Here are five stories you may have missed from the Sony Open in Hawaii.
1. Na gets cooking
Na thoroughly over-performed relative to his stats coming into the Sony. The most glaring difference: He was 191st in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green coming into the first full-field tournament of 2021, but was fifth in that category at the Sony, gaining strokes on the field.
Another important factor? Na was well-fed, and for that he has himself to thank.
“I’ve never done so much cooking in my whole life,” he said recently, when asked what he did with his three-month break last spring. “I like it, it’s fun for me. I hate doing the dishes.”
And what’s his best creation?
“I do a really good rose pasta,” he said. “Really good. A mixture of cream and just regular tomato sauce. I get recipes online but that one I’ve always known. I’m not bad at fried rice, I can make a bunch of different kinds of fried rice. I can make a decent kimchi stew. My Korean dishes, I’m prouder of that than the pasta – I mean pasta is pasta.
“I would say I went from a C+ to a B- cook. My food is edible. My wife likes it.”
2. Kirk reclaims life, career
Chris Kirk was making his last start on a major medical extension after taking time off the TOUR to address alcoholism and depression, and needed a top-three finish to regain full status.
Job done. Kirk, 35, birdied seven of his last 13 holes for a 65 and a T2 finish. He called the result “incredible” after a “rollercoaster” few years and thanked his wife Tahnee and their sons Sawyer, Foster and Wilder. “I just love them so much and I can’t wait to see them,” he said.
Playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, Kirk won The King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village last year before rejoining the TOUR. His best year was 2014, when he won The RSM Classic and Deutsche Bank Championship to make a run in the FedExCup Playoffs. Looking back on it now, though, he calls 2013-15 both his peak years and also the beginning of his problems.
“Alcoholism is a very progressive disease,” Kirk said from Waialae. “At that time, I probably was not an alcoholic; I was just on my way to being one. After the next few years, things kind of got worse.” Eventually, he said, he didn’t like who he was, hence the time off.
Today, Kirk said, he’s in “a great place mentally and physically” and “OK with who I am.” He is no longer trying to hide anything, and knowing he’s giving his best to his family has allowed him to give his best to his career. “It’s allowing me to potentially get back to the form that I had before,” he said, “and actually using the skill set that I’ve been blessed with.”
3. Niemann packs Hawaiian punch
One of the big winners from Hawaii: Chile’s Joaquin Niemann (66), whose T2 marked his second runner-up finish in as many weeks after falling to Harris English in a playoff at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Niemann is 45 under par for his first eight rounds of 2021.
“Yeah, it was a great two weeks in Hawaii,” said Niemann, whose back-to-back runner-up finishes are the first by anyone on TOUR since Webb Simpson at the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and Wyndham Championship. “Going to go with all the positive,” Niemann added, “and really happy with all the work we’ve done and just proud.”
4. Leishman sheds shelter-in-place hangover
After starting last season off with a bang as he won the Farmers Insurance Open, Marc Leishman saw any momentum he had completely disappear with the three-month hiatus starting in March.
“For me, being home with the wife and kids was awesome,” he said from the QBE Shootout last month. “I’ve never been home that long. I lost my golf game at some point during those three months, and it didn’t want to come back, but I think I’ve got it back now.”
The results from the Sony back him up. After going 1 over through eight holes Sunday, he went 6 under the rest of the way for his third consecutive 65. That left him just two shots behind the winner Na and in a tie for fourth with Webb Simpson (64) and Brendan Steele (69).
“Had to chip out sideways twice on the front nine, one left-handed,” Leishman said. “I hate doing that. So that was disappointing. But fought back well. … See how it ends up. I don’t think it’s going to be good enough but happy to get the competitive juices flowing again and put me in a good spot going into (the Farmers at) Torrey Pines in a couple weeks.”
5. Steele: Aggressive move backfired
Third-round leader Brendan Steele (69, T4) had the tournament slip through his fingers for the second straight year, and afterward went back to his ill-fated attempt to drive the 10th green.
“I think if I lay up on 10, I win the tournament,” he said. Instead, his ball failed to clear the bunker and wound up in what he called a “weird” lie, from which he made a bogey.
The three-time TOUR winner never got back on track, shooting 2 over on the back.
“I’ve seen a lot of things in my 11 years out here,” Steele said, “and I’ve closed well, I’ve closed poorly, I’ve closed in the middle and it doesn’t get any easier. It’s always really hard and I think anybody out here will tell you that no matter how many times they have won.”