Hayden Buckley looked like he was setting up a classic PGA Tour underdog story as he buried a birdie putt on the 70th hole of the Sony Open to reclaim a one-shot lead.
But moments later and just a hole ahead, Si Woo Kim had an answer.
Kim holed his chip from behind the 17th green and then hit the green in two on the par-5 18th. His two-putt got him in the clubhouse at 18 under.
The number proved to be enough for Kim’s fourth PGA Tour title when Buckley failed to get up and down from short right of the green. His birdie try from 12 feet hit a spike mark a few feet from the hole.
“So this is really exciting, and hopefully a lot of the season is left,” Kim said after the round. “Hopefully trying to get more confidence and then like hopefully get more wins.”
He was five back through 54 holes and three back to start the final round, but back-to-back rounds of 64 at Waialea on the weekend closed the gap. Kim started his final round with three consecutive birdies to immediately jump into contention.
Buckley started his fourth round with a birdie on the first hole, and then was steady, making all pars until the 11th hole. He was unable to get up and down out of the front bunker on 11, and a hole ahead, Kim made a short birdie to take the lead for the first time all tournament.
The pair traded the lead throughout the back nine, but Kim told NBC Sports after the round he knew he had to do something special on the 17th hole with his chip after he heard Buckley make his putt on 16.
“I heard a noise and I knew he made it, so it was kind of tough lie into the greens, so I had to hit aggressive,” Kim said. “So I just hit it aggressive and goes in. Yeah, it was exciting.”
He unleashed a fist pump that evoked memories of his dramatic Sunday performance at the Presidents Cup in September when took down Justin Thomas in the opening match of Sunday singles.
Aside from the matches, Kim, the 2016 Players Championship winner, hasn’t had much PGA Tour success of late. After picking up his third win and five top-10s in 2021, Kim had just one last season.
He looked to start rounding a corner after the Presidents Cup with a T8 in Las Vegas but then didn’t have any top-25s in his three remaining fall starts.
The runner-up is a career-best for Buckley who is in his second year on the PGA Tour. He got in as an alternate at the 2021 LECOM Suncoast Classic on the Korn Ferry Tour. He won that week and ended up securing status on the PGA Tour by the end of that season.
He also showed flashes of brilliance at the U.S. Open last year, going into the third round just one behind before fading on the weekend.
“Winning on the PGA TOUR is the hardest thing to do and sometimes you just get beat, and I feel like that’s what happened today,” the 26-year-old said. “I think confidence is something that I will never lose it just because I’ve seen the way I hit the ball, and I’ve seen the way I can just rise to the occasion. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen today, but I think good things are coming.”