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In what became a boxing match on the back-nine, rookie Russell Henley proved to be the heavyweight on Sunday at the Sony Open.
Henley, 23, finished his round with five consecutive birdies to card a 7-under 63 and secure a three-shot victory over veteran Tim Clark (who birdied his last four) to win his first PGA Tour title.
Henley, a Georgia product, had one bogey over his last 60 holes of the tournament, that coming on the par-4 8th hole on Sunday. Henley responded to his bogey with seven birdies over his next 10 holes.
Henley became the first player since Henrik Stenson in 2007 to win in his first start as a PGA Tour player with full status.
Rookie and former Illinois All-American Scott Langley birdied No. 18 to finish alone in third place.
Here is how it all unfolded on Sunday:
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Update #27: 10:15 p.m. EST
Russell Henley doesn’t need to do anything daring at the par-5 finisher, not holding a three-stroke lead and hitting the ball the way he has on the back-nine.
Henley uses fairway metal and finds a fairway bunker on the left. Clark pounds a driver, and the ball bounds through the fairway and into the rough on the right. He’ll need eagle and hope that Henley picks up bogey.
Henley’s second shot skirts up the fairway and finds the rough on the right, just in front of the green. Clark takes dead aim at the front-right pin, but the ball bounds past the flag and off the back of the green. He’ll need a chip-in at this point.
Clark doesn’t and settles for a birdie, while Henley also gets up-and-down for birdie and a three-shot victory.
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Update #26: 9:56 p.m. EST
Russell Henley is not playing like a rookie, as rookies aren’t supposed to birdie three consecutive holes on the back-nine when they are chasing their first PGA Tour victory.
And they aren’t supposed to stare down flags on the par-3 17th hole, setting up an 10-footer for four straight. But it’s happening.
Clark does hit a nice shot as well, but will have about 15 feet for birdie.
Clark does convert to get to 20 under and is now 6 under on his round. But he can’t cut into the lead, as Henley birdies his fourth consecutive hole to move to 23 under.
That is likely game, set and match.
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Update #25: 9:46 p.m. EST
In the first sign of any nerves, Russell Henley yanks his tee ball on the par-4 16th well left of the fairway, landing on the other side of the cart path. Some tree trouble might be ahead. Clark also goes left, but should be able to keep it low and avoid the trees. At this point, it seems to be a two-man race between Henley and Clark, with the latter needing the former to fall apart.
From 158 yards, Henley hits his best shot of the day, clearing a slew of trees from well off the fairway and settling about 10 feet in front of the cup. Moments later, Clark gets it inside of Henley and will have 4 feet for birdie.
Henley is simply on fire right now, making his third consecutive birdie to move to 22 under, still three clear of Tim Clark, who also birdies.
• Elsewhere on the course: Matt Kuchar and Jeff Overton just polished off 5-under 65s with birdies at No. 18, with Kuchar moving to 16 under (T-4) and Overton to 15 under (T-6).
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Update #24: 9:30 p.m. EST
That was a huge birdie for Russell Henley on No. 14, giving him a three-shot advantage with only four holes to play. The field now has to sit back and hope nerves might get the best of the Georgia product.
Playing the par-4 15th hole, Henley splits the fairway yet again. Clark also finds the fairway, while Langley misses right. Langley’s second shot comes up just short of the green, and looks disgusted immediately. Henley throws a dart, settling about 10 feet left of the pin with his approach, while Clark nearly holes out and will have about 4 feet for birdie.
Langley’s chip has the right line, but comes up 4 feet short. He misses that putt to fall to 1 over on the day and 16 under for the tournament. Clark does convert on his birdie try to get to 18 under.
Looks like that won’t matter much, as Henley drains yet another birdie putt to move to 21 under. That was his 17th birdie on a par 4 this week, a Sony Open record.
Henley’s lead stays at three strokes.
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Update #23: 9:14 p.m. EST
Tim Clark is now the closest to leader Russell Henley, but he’s going to have some work to do after a wayward tee shot on the par-4 14th hole, flirting with a fairway bunker on the left. Henley splits the middle, while Langley is able to curve it into the left side of the fairway.
Clark manages to punch a ball that runs up onto the green and settles about 20 feet under the hole, while Langley hits a nice shot to about 12 feet left of the pin. Henley, hitting from the middle of the fairway, hits a lackluster shot that settles just outside of Clark’s ball on the green.
Henley just might have put the nail in the field’s coffin by draining his lengthy birdie attempt to get to 20 under. Clark fails to make his birdie attempt and settles for par, while Langley moves back to 17 under by making his birdie putt. Henley is now three clear of the field.
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Update #22: 8:57 p.m. EST
Russell Henley hasn’t been perfect, but he has managed to hang tough and give himself some cushion heading into the final six holes of the tournament.
Playing the par-4 13th hole, Clark and Langley both miss the fairway to the right, while Henley splits the middle. If Henley has any sort of nerves going, he isn’t showing them much.
Langley has to pitch out from behind some trees and will be hitting his third from more than 100 yards back in the fairway. Clark goes from fairway bunker to greenside bunker, while Henley hits a great shot that settles about 12 feet beyond the hole.
Henley’s birdie attempt just squeaks by on the left, but is safely in for par and stays at 19 under. Langley drops a shot after missing a 20-footer for par and drops back to 16 under, while Clark manages to get up-and-down to stay at 17 under.
Meanwhile, Josh Teater has posted the round of the day thus far, carding a 5-under 65 and is currently T-13.
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Update #21: 8:39 p.m. EST
The final group has trouble off the 12th tee, with Clark going right and finding the rough, Langley goes left and finds the first cut and Henley goes well left and might have some tree trouble.
Henley comes to rest on the cart path and he takes relief into some long rough. His second shot has to stay low and it runs through the green, leaving himself with a slight downhill pitch across the green. Clark hits a nice second shot to above the hole and just off the green, but will be able to putt. Langley’s second shot hits the middle of the green and he’ll have about 20 feet for birdie.
Henley leaves his chip shot about 8 feet short, leaving himself a long par save. But he drains it and stays at 19 under, two shots ahead of the field. He looked calm despite the situation he finds himself in – in the lead on the back-nine of a PGA Tour event.
Langley two-putts for a par to stay at 17 under. Meanwhile, Clark misreads his putt from the fringe and sends it 4 feet past, but saves par to also remain at 17 under.
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Update #20: 8:19 p.m. EST
Playing the par-3 11th hole, Clark hits the center of the green and has more than 20 feet for birdie, Langley hits a great shot into the green and will have 8 feet for birdie and Henley safely hits the green, but will put from more than 25 feet.
Henley’s birdie attempt rolls past the hole and settles about 3 feet past. A bit of steam on that birdie attempt. Clark also sends his past the hole by about 3 feet. Langley hits the right edge on his birdie attempt and taps it in for a par. That one will sting the former Illinois All-American as he tries to chase down Henley. Clark also pars to stay at 17 under.
Henley does make his par putt to remain at 19 under, two shots clear of the field.
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Update #19: 8:08 p.m. EST
Playing the short par-4, Russell Henley nearly drives the green, leaving it about 10 yards short and looking at a great chance for birdie. Langley hits a low-liner that runs through a bunker to right of the fairway and comes to rest in the rough.
Langley plays a great second shot to about 6 feet behind the hole, Tim Clark hits a nice approach to about 5 feet under the hole and Henley hits a so-so second shot to about 8 feet under the hole.
Despite the chip, Henley drains his birdie attempt to get to 19 under and that is back-to-back birdies for the leader.
Langley also birdies to move to 17 under (he’s even on his round), while Clark joins him with a nice read on a little right-to-left birdie attempt.
Henley is up by two strokes with eight to play.
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Update #18: 7:53 p.m. EST
After Scott Langley, Tim Clark and Russell Henley blast their drives down the throat of the fairway at the par-5 9th, Langley skirts his second shot through the green, Clark finds the bunker left and Henley puts his second shot in the middle of the green, leaving himself 30 feet for eagle.
Langley nearly chips it in, hitting the left edge of the cup and coming to rest about 4 feet under the hole. Clark hits a poor bunker shot and leaves himself about 15 feet for birdie, while Henley’s eagle try comes up about 5 feet short.
Clark, using a belly putter, buries his birdie putt for a nice sand save, while Langley knocks his in as well.
But Henley matches them to regain his two-shot advantage, now over Clark, Langley and Charles Howell III.
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Update #17: 7:44 p.m. EST
Charles Howell III buries a 20-footer for eagle on No. 9 to move to 16 under, only one shot back of Russell Henley, who is back in the fairway.
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Update #16: 7:35 p.m. EST
Pat Perez works his way to 15 under with a birdie at the par-5 9th, now only two shots back of Russell Henley.
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Update #15: 7:31 p.m. EST
Russell Henley runs into his first bit of trouble of the day, going well left off the tee at No. 8 while Langley and Clark split the fairway. Henley gets his second shot up and over the trees, but goes left of the green and short-sides himself, while Langley and Clark give themselves less than 5 feet each for birdie.
Henley gets a free drop after his second shot comes to rest near a nailed-down piece of rubber protecting some chords around the green. Henley chunks the chip regardless and leaves himself about 12 feet to save par.
He misses the putt to the left to end his bogey-free streak at 50 holes and falls back to 17 under.
Langley misses his 5-footer to the left and two-putts for a par, while Clark makes to get to 15 under. Henley remains two ahead of the field.
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Update #14: 7:17 p.m. EST
Russell Henley didn’t have to do much to extend his lead, as Scott Langley bogeys No. 7 to fall back to 15 under, while Henley pars it to stay at 18 under and create a three-shot lead.
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Update #13: 7:12 p.m. EST
Call it boring golf, but Russell Henley is on cruise control right now, picking up his fifth consecutive par to stay at 18 under, two shots clear of Scott Langley, who also pars No. 6.
Scoring isn’t nearly as impressive today, with those on the first page of the leaderboard hovering around par to slightly under par on the day. Clark (14 under), Matt Kuchar (13 under), Charles Howell III (14 under) or Pat Perez (14 under) are going to need to catch fire if Henley can stay steady.
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Update #12: 6:58 p.m. EST
Another hole, two more pars for Henley and Langley, leaving Henley two ahead in the chase for his first PGA Tour title.
Tim Clark has been joined by Charles Howell III and Pat Perez at 14 under, with both being 2 under on their respective rounds.
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Update #11: 6:29 p.m. EST
A trio of pars at No. 4 for our final group, with Henley missing a mid-range putt for birdie. Leaderboard remains the same, with Henley up by two over Langley and three over Clark.
Meanwhile, Danny Lee has dropped down the leaderboard after a double-bogey on the par-3 4th hole, falling to 11 under for the tournament.
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Update #10: 6:11 p.m. EST
A day after 15 pars and three birdies, Russell Henley continues to stay steady, picking up a two-putt par on No. 3 to stay at 18 under, two clear of Scott Langley, who also pars. Tim Clark, playing in the final group, picks up his first birdie of the day to move to 15 under.
Meanwhile, Vijay Singh is enjoying a nice final round, making the turn 3 under on this round and 11 under for the tournament.
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Update #9: 5:54 p.m. EST
Henley’s long birdie attempt on No. 2 comes up short and he settles for a par and stays at 18 under for the tournament. Langley also picks up a par to remain at 16 under.
Meanwhile, Webb Simpson made the turn 3 under on his round and has moved to 10 under overall.
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Update #8: 5:37 p.m. EST
Henley opens his final round with a birdie after an incredible approach shot that left him with a short putt, while Langley three-putts for a bogey to give Henley a two-shot lead.
Meanwhile, Monday qualifier Danny Lee birdies No. 2 to get to 13 under and is T-4.
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Update #7: 5:27 p.m. EST
Pat Perez gets to within four of the lead with a birdie at No. 1, with the leaders having taken to the first tee.
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Update #6: 5:19 p.m. EST
This news nugget from our Sean Martin: Russell Henley could crack the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking in just his first start as a PGA Tour member.
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Update #5: 5:15 p.m. EST
A day after a so-so round of 70, Matt Kuchar starts his final round with a birdie to move to 12 under. Meanwhile, Ricky Barnes has pushed to 11 under behind birdies at Nos. 2-3.
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Update #4: 4:50 p.m. EST
Justin Hicks has moved into double digits, getting to 10 under behind a birdie at No. 2. He joins five others in a tie for 14th.
Morgan Hoffmann is struggling out of the game, going 3 over through four holes to fall back to 4 under and into a tie for 53rd.
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Update #3: 4:25 p.m. EST
Charlie Wi has started his round strong, opening with three consecutive birdies to move to 8 under and is currently T-25. He opened on the back-nine, so his birdies came on Nos. 10-12.
Meanwhile, Vijay Singh, who will turn 50 next month, opened his round with a birdie at No. 1 to move to 9 under.
Keegan Bradley has slipped further back with a double-bogey at No. 3 and is 3 over through three holes on Sunday.
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Update #2: 3:50 p.m. EST
Keegan Bradley is one of the bigger names who have teed off on Sunday and he drops a shot at No. 1, falling back to 6 under and 11 shots off the pace. It was his eighth bogey of the tournament, not to mention a double-bogey on Thursday.
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Update #1: 3:40 p.m. EST
Play is underway at the Sony Open, with Josh Teater starting his day with a birdie to get to 8 under.
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Round 3 coverage
• 5 THINGS: Harris English was frustrated with his driver after Friday’s round, so he put in a bit of extra work and it paid immediate dividends on Saturday to the tune of an 8-under 62. Story.
• TRACKER: Playing in the final group, Scott Langley and Russell Henley earned spots in Sunday’s final trio as well, with both finishing the round at 17 under overall, three shots clear of their nearest competitor. See how it happened.
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Round 2 coverage
• 5 THINGS: Rookies Russell Henley and Scott Langley sit one-two halfway through the Sony Open, but they weren’t the only stories Friday in Honolulu. Here are 5 Things you need to know from the day that was. Story.
• TRACKER: Russell Henley not only turned in a second straight 7-under 63, but the PGA Tour rookie also took a two-shot lead after Friday’s second round in Honolulu. See how it happened.
• PULLING OFF THE IMPOSSIBLE: With the Hyundai TOC running 24 hours behind due to horrible weather, NBC (and Golf Channel) had its work cut out for it trying to get set up for the Sony Open. Yet, somehow, when you turned on your TV Thursday night, no one could notice the difference. Story.
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Round 1 coverage
• TOUGH LOVE: After playing a practice round at the 2012 U.S. Open, K.J. Choi was blunt with Dong-Hwan Lee: “You hit it like a woman.” Lee didn’t take offense to it, he went home and worked harder. Notebook.
• ROOKIES RISE: It was a day dominated by rookies, led by former Illinois All-American Scott Langley, who shot an 8-under 62 to take a one-shot lead at the Sony Open. 5 Things.
• TRACKER: Round 1 at the Sony Open is complete with PGA Tour rookie Scoot Langley taking a one-shot lead over Russell Henley. Langley finished the day by shooting a bogey free 8-under 62. How it happened.
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• FAMILIAR PLACE: 54-year-old left-hander Russ Cochran, who Monday-qualified for the Sony Open, will be making his first PGA Tour start in nearly four years. Story.
• GRIP IT AND RIP IT: Coach Butch Harmon says he loves it when Dustin Johnson hits driver nearly everywhere. “Best club in his bag,” says Tiger Woods’ former coach. Johnson agrees, saying he gets in trouble when he tries to “steer it.” Notebook.
• PREDICTIONS: Keegan Bradley, Dustin Johnson and Zach Johnson are on the respective radars of our fantasy experts for this week’s Sony Open. Story.
• ODDS: It didn’t take long for Dustin Johnson to be installed as the favorite to win his second event in the 2013 PGA Tour season, as he is an 8-1 favorite at the Sony Open. Story.