HONOLULU — Johnson Wagner was bursting with so much excitement about his game at the start of the year that his father jokingly asked if he was on speed. It was just confidence, the most powerful drug in golf.
He worked harder than ever in the offseason and lost 20 pounds. He grew a mustache and developed thick skin from the reaction to it. And he told his friends and family that he would win early in the year and go to the Masters.
Wagner backed it all up Sunday in the Sony Open.
He played bogey-free over the last 12 holes, a winning recipe on a tough day at Waialae, and closed with a 3-under 67 for a two-shot victory that filled him with even more confidence about his game and the rest of the season.
“I was definitely telling people to expect something early this year, which is a nice feeling,” Wagner said. “Usually, my confidence is low. I’m kind of shy in a little shell. And for some reason, I just had way more energy and confidence going into this year.”
It was his third career victory on the PGA Tour, and it sends him to the Masters, along with allowing him to book another two-week working vacation in Hawaii next year.
Wagner, who finished at 13-under 267 and earned $990,000, was among six players who had at least a share of the lead at some point in the final round. He was the only guy to stay there.
Harrison Frazar took the outright lead with a birdie on No. 10, but had to settle for pars the rest of the way for a 67. Charles Howell III was paired with Wagner and stayed with him until a three-putt par on the par-5 ninth. He birdied the last hole for a 69. Sean O’Hair narrowly missed a 30-foot eagle putt on the last hole and shot 67, while Carl Pettersson overcame a double bogey on his second hole with four birdies on the last six holes for a 67.
They all tied for second.
“My first top 10 as an American,” said Pettersson, the Swede who became a U.S. citizen during the offseason.
They were all chasing Wagner, who seized control with a 9-iron into the 15th that was pin-high, just off the green. He rolled that in for birdie, and then didn’t come close to making a mistake until he nearly missed a tap-in par on the 18th.
Coming into the year, Wagner had only seven top 10s — including two wins — in 139 tournaments. He had never made it to the Tour Championship and played in only four majors.
But what a transformation. Along with his work ethic, he began jotting notes and goals into a notebook, using the green cover he received in 2008 from his lone Masters appearance.
With respect to his mustache — Frazar made a “Magnum P.I.” reference at Kapalua — the biggest change with Wagner was his attitude.
“I love being out here. There’s so many great players,” he said. “But why are they any better? Why are the people in the top 50 better than me? I’ve always struggled a little bit with believing in myself.”
As for that mustache getting so much attention?
Wagner didn’t shave during Thanksgiving and kept the mustache.
“Kind of made a deal with myself in December that if I was to get into the Masters, then I was going to keep the mustache for at least this year,” he said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, is it a Movember mustache? Well, it’s December, time to shave it.’ I said, Look, this is not a one-month mustache. This is potentially a 10-year mustache.’
“So I think it’s going to be around for a while.”
Jeff Maggert and Matt Every, tied for the lead going into the last day, both collapsed early. Every was 4 over through six holes and rallied for a 72. Maggert missed a slew of short putts and shot 74.
Considering all the attention Every received this week — his comments about his marijuana possession arrest two years ago his awkward television interview — he said Saturday night that “I’m just ready to get it over with.”
And that he did. He was tied for the lead with Maggert, and quickly spent the day in hopeless pursuit.
Every made bogey from the bunker on the first hole, drove into the water at No. 2, three-putted for bogey at No. 4 and three-putted again from 4 feet on the sixth hole for a double bogey.
Maggert was scrambling from the start, too, and while he holed par putts of 8 and 15 feet on the opening two holes, it caught up with him.
They were still in the hunt at the turn — and so was everyone else.
PGA champion Keegan Bradley hit 8-iron into about 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 ninth, creating a five-way tie for the lead along with Maggert, Every, Frazar and Wagner.
Bradley fell back when his long bunker shot sailed 20 yards over the 10th green, turning a birdie chance into a bogey. Frazar hit his easier bunker shot on the 10th to a foot to take the outright lead, only to be joined a short time later by Wagner, who birdied the ninth. Michael Thompson joined them briefly in the lead until a bogey on the 17th.
Wagner was the only player who kept it going.
He started the back nine by driving safely into the front left bunker and holing a 10-footer for birdie to take the outright lead, and he never gave it back. No one else made enough birdies, and Wagner didn’t make any mistakes. He seized control for good on the 15th when his approach settled just on the fringe about 15 feet away for birdie and a two-shot lead.