HONOLULU – Ryan Palmer expected the worst when his chip from 50 feet short of the 18th green came out a little strong.
Seconds later, he never felt better.
His chip struck the pin squarely, and instead of running about 8 feet past the hole, it settled a few inches away. Palmer tapped in for a birdie and a 4-under 66, giving him a one-shot victory in the Sony Open when Robert Allenby missed a 10-foot birdie putt.
“What a way to start the year,” Palmer said.
All week long at the Sony Open, he tried to stay in the moment, a lesson he picked up earlier in the week while reading an article about defending champion Zach Johnson. The chip turned out to be the greatest moment of all.
“It was a good chip,” Palmer said. “The grain was running against me. It was either going to hit it fat or do what I did. Fortunately, I got the good break.”
Palmer’s three PGA Tour victories include one at Disney with Tiger Woods in the field. This was far more meaningful. The 33-year-old Texas was atop the leaderboard every day, and kept his composure in a tight final round at Waialae against Allenby and Steve Stricker, who was briefly tied for the lead and eventually finished third.
“What I got out of this is beyond words,” Palmer said. “It’s a great field. To do it every day … my bad round was 2-under par. I never once got upset or impatient. What I did today was the best round of golf I ever experienced.”
And it came with some pretty good perks.
Palmer, who finished 150th on the money list last year, is exempt on the PGA Tour through 2012. He’s going to the Masters for the first time in five years. He can add The Players Championship and PGA Championship to his list, along with at least one World Golf Championship.
Allenby was trying to win his third consecutive tournament on three tours, a feat believed to have never been accomplished, and he gave himself every chance. He played bogey-free on the back nine, but he needed one more birdie. His second shot out of the rough on the 18th came out hot and over the green, and he did well to give himself a realistic chance at birdie and a playoff.
Allenby, who won the Nedbank Challenge on the Sunshine Tour and the Australian PGA Championship on the Australasian PGA Tour at the end of last year, closed with a 67.
“I had a couple of chances out there,” Allenby said. “It’s so easy to look back and say, ‘I could have made that, I could have made that.’ But at the end of the day, realistically, I needed to make a birdie at the last.”
Palmer finished at 15-under 265 and earned $990,000.
Stricker had a 65 and finished two shots back. Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen closed with a tournament-best 62 and was atop the leaderboard as Palmer and Allenby were making the turn, although his 12-under 268 never looked as though it would be enough.
Palmer might not have been in this position without reading the article about Johnson and his strategy of not thinking ahead.
“I played each day for that day,” Palmer said. “I wanted to win today.”
About the time Goosen finished, Stricker hit a hybrid from the grassy collar of a bunker onto the par-5 ninth green for a birdie, then hit a good pitch to 3¬Ω feet on the 10th to join Goosen at 12 under. With so many holes left, and Palmer and Allenby behind him, it turned into a three-man race over the final two hours.
Stricker certainly had his chances, although it was an example that even one of the best putters in golf doesn’t make everything. He lipped out a 5-foot birdie chance on the 12th and missed from 8 feet on the 14th. He also holed a birdie putt on the 13th that briefly put him in a tie for the lead, and a 25-footer on the 17th that kept alive his hopes.
But he found a bunker on the 18th, and Waialae sand makes it tough to get spin on the ball. His long bunker shot went 20 feet long and high of the hole, and Stricker’s birdie putt to join the leaders grazed the edge of the cup.
“I did leave a couple out there,” Stricker said. “It’s a little disappointing. I hit the ball great today, gave myself a lot of opportunities. All of a sudden, I found myself doubting a couple of reads. I was getting confused a couple of times.”
Allenby might have saved his chances early in the round. He had a sloppy three-putt on the fourth, then went through the green on the fifth with a sand wedge. His chip came out hot and ran 15 feet by the hole, and Allenby was so disgusted he kicked at the ground – with his left ankle, at least – but then holed the par putt.
Palmer’s volatility came with his scores. He had a one-shot lead going to the back nine, then didn’t make a par until he missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole. He birdied the 10th, 12th and 14th, all from inside 12 feet. He bogeyed the 11th and 13th from bunkers.
Allenby caught him again with a tough shot inside 3 feet on the 15th, and the duel was on.
Charles Howell III, who learned in the offseason his wife is expecting their first child, ended a stretch of 17 tournaments without a top 10 with a 66-64 weekend to tie for fifth with Carl Petterson (66) and Davis Love III, who holed out for eagle from the 16th fairway and closed with a 67.