Trailing by one with three holes to play as Cantlay warmed up on the range for a potential playoff, Kim hit a 3-wood into the par-5 16th that defied all aspects of physics to kick straight on to the green for a two-putt birdie instead of towards whatever could await in the brutal 19-foot bunker protecting the left.
Entering the island green of the par-3 17th, better known as Alcatraz, Kim hoped to escape with a par but instead escaped with a birdie and a lead he’d never relinquish, rolling in a 19-foot breaker that seemed to only have one roll left in before it dumped in the front and sent Kim into a fist-pumping frenzy.
“I wanted, at least I want to go to make the playoff, so I tried to focus on speed and then actually Max Homa’s putt helped me a lot, so I knew how it goes,” Kim said. “So I just focused on speed and I hit it very confidently.”
Ironically, Kim’s latest victory once again comes on a Pete Dye-designed golf course, but that wasn’t the only similarity between Sunday in La Quinta and his PLAYERS win almost four years ago. At TPC Sawgrass, Kim’s signature moment came when he ripped driver-off-the-deck from the right rough on the par-4 14th on to the green en route to victory. He went back to the well on Sunday, pulling driver from the middle of the fairway on the par-5 11th with 290 to the hole and water staring at him just left of the green.
“Yeah, I hit driver today on No. 11. There was water on left side, and I thought I had enough distance for my driver,” Kim said. “So I tried to keep it safe, so that’s why I didn’t hit the 3-wood and then I tried to use the mound on the right side, so that’s why I hit the driver-off-the-deck there.”
His fearlessness worked once again as Kim got up-and-down for birdie, a hole that proved pivotal in separating him from 54-hole co-leader Tony Finau who made bogey and dropped out of contention.
Finau, who entered the 11th just one back of Kim, will have to endure the sting of another victory escaping his grasps. After pouring in back-to-back birdies to start the final round and testy par putts at No. 3 and No. 6., this final round seemed like it may be different for Finau. But the putter that Finau said had to support him if he was going to win Sunday ultimately let him down with a missed 4-foot birdie at No. 7 and a missed 3-foot par at the 11th after hooking his approach into the par-5 into the water. Finau went on to finsh solo-fourth, his 19th top five since his last win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
“Yeah, that’s probably where I’m looking back on the back nine where I had some momentum and hit a good tee shot on 11. I had a take a little bit off my 3-iron so I decided to just hit a really low draw and just barely pulled it, just enough for it to go in the water,” Finau said. “All hope wasn’t lost, of course, I should have been able to get that up-and-down. I was almost too confident in that short putt, I hit it too hard. Still thought I made it and it just power lipped out.
“So that was a tough pill to swallow at the time because I just never thought I was going to walk away with 6 there and there we were on the 12th tee, having bogeyed the hole before, so. But, you know, as I know in this game, golf goes on, life goes on, after that hole I got to keep playing and keep pushing, trying to make birdies coming in. Si Woo did a great job this week and he’s a well-deserved champion.”