Planet Golf — 13 January 2023 by GW staff and news services
Si Woo’s comeback wins Sony Open

HONOLULU – The talent has never been in question.

But for Si Woo Kim, his attitude, and his results, have varied.

“High expectations,” Kim said of his occasional struggles after carding his second straight 64 to reach 18 under par and win the Sony Open in Hawaii by a shot over Hayden Buckley (68).

It was the fourth PGA TOUR victory for Kim, 27, who began three behind the leader Buckley but closed the gap with three straight birdies. Kim finished with two more birdies, including a 28-foot chip-in on 17 just seconds after Buckley had birdied 16, and a two-putt birdie on 18, where he chased his second shot onto the green with a 5-iron from a fairway bunker.

Chris Kirk (68) finished alone in third, three back.

Kim is not the same guy whose third and most recent victory before Sunday came at The American Express in 2021. For one thing, he got married last month. For another, he joined forces with a new caddie, Manny Villegas, brother of Camilo, at the Presidents Cup last fall.

Kim and Villegas talk a lot about attitude and expectations, because when you’ve won the Korean Junior Championship four years in a row, won again as a PGA TOUR rookie (2016 Wyndham Championship), and lapped the field at the 2017 PLAYERS Championship (at just 21) it can seem like your birthright to win every week.

And when you don’t? Well, look out.

“Always hard,” Kim said, “but I’m trying to get – I’ve got too much pressure and too much high expectation, so I think that makes me more nervous and pressure and stress.

“… With Manny, I talked to him like week before here, so I’m trying to be better attitude and trying to be more – like act better. When I hit (not) the best shot, try to be less upset. I think that helps for this week.”

Villegas knew Kim was good, but was surprised at just how good, and the partnership began well as Kim went 3-1-0 for the International Team, including a Singles win over Justin Thomas.

“This guy stripes it, man,” Villegas said. “I just try to keep him patient, get him to believe in himself, because he’s got a lot of talent. Everybody knows he’s got a lot of talent. He’s amazing. He really hits his numbers. The thing is that he hits it so good, it makes it seem like he’s putting bad. Because he gets so many chances, you can’t just make them all.”

Kim was No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green at Waialae, which was on brand. That he was only a pedestrian 38th in Strokes Gained: Putting turned out not to matter. He held his own on the greens, and made the ones that mattered.

“You get that many 12- 15- 18-footers in one day,” Villegas said, “it makes you feel like, Man, I’ve missed six of them, but you’re not going to make them all. And he’s good from long range, too; every now and then he’ll throw a bomb in there.”

He’s also sneaky funny, say friends and colleagues. Kim was quick to make fun of himself after he made a TOUR-record 13 at the watery 11th hole at TPC Southwind in 2021.

There’s one other important thing about him, Villegas added.

“He’s very good under pressure,” the caddie said.

Adam Scott (67, T21) said the same thing about his Presidents Cup teammate.

“There’s a lot to Si Woo as a golfer, especially on the inside,” Scott said as Kim battled on the back nine. “I think when he’s in a position like this, the fire burns hot, and he’s going to be hard to beat if he’s in the lead I would say.”

Kim admitted he got ahead of himself after his three-birdie start, and what Villegas called his best shot of the day, his 220-yard tee shot at the par-3 fourth hole, to a back-right pin with the wind coming in off the right. The ball stopped 4 feet, 2 inches from the pin, but Kim missed the putt and bogeyed the sixth and eighth holes. He birdied seven and nine to negate the damage, then settled down on the back, going bogey free as pulled even with and then ahead of Buckley.

It can be hard to turn him away once Kim gets a whiff of winning. Still, his confidence remains a work in progress.

“Yeah, my dad keep talk to me: ‘You’re not the top player, so don’t try to act like top player,’” he said, eliciting laughter and not a little bewilderment. “Yeah. If I play Rory, J.T., all the good players, sometimes I play with them, (I’m) like what I’m doing here, they’re so good, driving like 360, and I’m like 60 yards behind.

“Yeah, I’m still a lot of going.”

He may think he still has a long way to go, and maybe he really does, but Kim reminded again at the Sony that when he’s on his game, he’s as good as anyone, and he’s got another trophy to prove it.


HONOLULU – Hayden Buckley made eagle the hard way (from 133 yards at the par-4 10th hole) and the easy way (from 27 inches at the par-5 18th) as he shot a second straight 64 to get to 15 under par and take a two-shot lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii. 

David Lipsky (66), Ben Taylor (65), and Chris Kirk (68) are two back, while Si Woo Kim (64) and Andrew Putnam (62) are at 12 under and will go into Sunday three back.

With his first PGA TOUR victory in his sights, the question had to be asked: When was the last time Buckley was out at a restaurant and got recognized as a professional golfer?

“Probably never,” said Buckley, who got married in the off-season and barely touched a club. “Doesn’t happen much. I’m enjoying that while I can.”

Lipsky and England’s Taylor will also be seeing their first win Sunday. Then there’s Kirk, 37, a four-time PGA TOUR winner, most recently at the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. That was the same year Kirk played for the winning U.S. Presidents Cup Team in South Korea.

Will having those experiences give him a leg up?

“I don’t know, probably not,” he said. “If I had won three weeks ago maybe, but it’s been a little while. I definitely know what it takes, but also know it’s not easy to do.

“But I definitely like where I’m at,” he continued. “I like the way my golf game feels. Obviously am very comfortable and love this place, so I’m excited for the opportunity against these guys that haven’t won. Most of them are probably 15 years I younger than me.”

Kirk has four top-10s, including two runner-up finishes at the Sony, where he has recorded 13 rounds of 65 or better since 2011, more than anyone. Another reason he should like his position is that four of the last five winners of the Sony came from an average of two strokes back.

Putnam, who made his 13th straight cut at the Sony, the second-longest active streak on TOUR (Jon Rahm, 20), lives in Tacoma, Washington, which doesn’t have optimal winter weather, so he prepared for one island golf trip with another. Last month he went to Cuba with friends who help residents start small businesses, and he brought his clubs and played three times at Varadero Golf Club.

“It’s a good course,” he said. “Unfortunately, they had a huge fire, and all the mowers were destroyed, so $7 million worth of damage right before we got there. I think they had one or two mowers on the whole island. I think they have to hand mow all through the night to get the course ready.”

Putnam, whose lone TOUR win came at the 2018 Barracuda Championship, was 2 over through four holes Saturday. Then he made six straight birdies and ended his round with three more. He took just 24 strokes on the greens and made 167 feet of putts. Not surprisingly, he ranked No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Putting for the round. He’s also tops in the field in that metric for the week – he’s made over 400 feet of putts – which is important at the Sony.

Since 2010, ever Sony winner but one has ranked in the top 10 in Strokes Gained: Putting.

Si Woo Kim shot a third-round 64 and said his singles victory over Justin Thomas at the Presidents Cup last fall helped with his self-belief. “My game was little down like at the end of the season,” said Kim, a three-time PGA TOUR winner, including THE PLAYERS Championship in 2017, “but I think that kind of like gave me momentum.”

They’ll all be chasing Buckley, 26, who has already experienced one life-changing moment in Hawaii. It wasn’t that long ago that he shot a 61 at the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational, a college tournament in Hawaii. He was a senior at Missouri and realized he might just have the stuff to play golf professionally, perhaps even on the PGA TOUR.

“It kind of woke me up a little bit to where I realized, this is something I could do for a living,” he said. “… It was that defining moment where I was studying pretty hard, and I studied a little less hard after that because I knew that golf was something that I was going to pursue.”

In his 40th PGA TOUR start, this marks the first time Buckley has held the 54-hole lead. Newly married, he’s also a new resident of Jupiter, Florida, having moved there from nearby Fort Myers in the fall. He’s spent only three days in Jupiter and hasn’t had time to find a place to play.

Perhaps, someone suggested, the clubs there will have to fight for him.

“Hope so,” he said. “That would be great.”


HONOLULU — Chris Kirk in the lead might have been the only shred of normalcy in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Jordan Spieth started Friday with a share of the lead. He walked off the 18th green at Waialae in a minor state of shock after missing the cut.

“I felt I had a really bad deck of cards today,” said Spieth, the first player since Matt Every at Bay Hill in 2020 to go from a share of the 18-hole lead to an early exit. “It was a weird, weird day.”

He had a 5-over 75 after opening with a 64.

Rory Sabbatini birdied the 18th hole in the morning and was within one shot of the lead as he headed to the front nine. He hit his tee shot out-of-bounds. Double bogey. He pulled his drive into the water on No. 2. Double bogey. He pulled his second shot on No. 3 into the same water and got the same score. He shot 41 on the final nine for a 74 and missed the cut by one.

J.J. Spaun had a happier time until the end, when one bad swing sent his tee shot into the canal on the par-5 ninth, leading to a bogey on the easiest hole at Waialae. He still shot 64 and was one shot behind.

But imagine showing up on the first tee on a PGA TOUR event located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and seeing your high school principal watching. Rita Kear, retired from San Dimas High School, happened to be on vacation with her husband.

“I saw her on the first tee and I was like, `Oh my God, is that Mrs. Kear?’ Sure enough was,” Spaun said. “Small world.”

A strange world Friday, at least down the shore from wild, wacky Waikiki.

Kirk dropped only one shot in his round of 5-under 65, putting him at 11-under 129 for a one-shot lead over Spaun and Taylor Montgomery, the PGA TOUR rookie who is playing his eighth tournament of the season and only once has finished out of the top 15.

He is polite to a fault, so to hear Montgomery talk about his teenage years in Las Vegas and the time he caddied at Shadow Creek and was trash talking Michael Jordan (it didn’t end well for Montgomery), it was hard to imagine. Then again, that was par for the course on Friday at Waialae.

Kirk was one of the feel-good stories from the Sony Open two years ago. He had stepped away from golf to seek help for alcoholism and depression. He received a medical extension, and the Sony Open was his last chance to keep his full card. He did that by closing with a 65 to tie for second.

Kirk was among those tied for the lead when he began the second round. He birdied the first three holes and, aside from a bogey on No. 6, didn’t have too much press. But he can appreciate the difficulty of trying to maintain good form from one day to the next.

“It’s so difficult to be great at this game professionally in the mental side,” he said. “I don’t know if I did a good job today or not, but thankfully did on the back nine. I always remind myself that pressure is a privilege when you start feeling a little bit of nerves.”

Spieth wasn’t sure what he was feeling. He was even for the day, right in the mix, when he went from the rough to a funky lie in the bunker. Next up was the par-5 ninth that is the easiest birdie on the course until the ball is sailing right toward the canal.

He took a drop close to the red hazard line with his left foot on the cart path. To take further relief would have brought a tree into play, but then he worried about his left foot slipping and his ball didn’t fade the way he wanted. It was a mess, and he had to make a 10-foot putt for bogey.

It felt like that happened all day.

“I’ve never led a tournament and missed the cut before,” Spieth said. “Just got the ball in the wrong spots at the wrong places.”

The cut won’t officially be made until Saturday morning because darkness again kept everyone from finishing. But it will be at 2-under 138. Davis Thompson was 2 under and facing an eagle putt from just inside 60 feet. As long as he doesn’t four-putt, he’ll be around for the weekend. Given how Friday went, it was probably a good idea to wait.


HONOLULU — Jordan Spieth played about the way he expected Thursday, another sign of growing confidence in his game, as he opened with a 6-under 64 and a share of the lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii with Chris Kirk and Taylor Montgomery.

Harris English had a 65 on a gorgeous day at Waialae Country Club, with a blazing sun and just enough wind to make players think every now and then. The large group one behind also included Olympic silver medalist Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia.

S.H. Kim of South Korea was 5 under with two holes to play when the opening round was halted by darkness.

Spieth ended nearly four years without a victory when he won the Valero Texas Open in 2021, and then added another win at the RBC Heritage last year. Missing on this day was the slow swing rehearsal to ingrain the changes he made to his swing.

His key word is freedom, and it sure looked that way at Waialae. He had three birdies in a a four-hole stretch around the turn, and outside of his lone bogey on 13th hole, his only disappointment was having to settle for par on his final hole at the par-5 ninth.

K.J. Choi, making a rare PGA TOUR start age 52, was in the group at 66 that included Stewart Cink, who turns 50 in May.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama opened with a 68, one better than Adam Scott.

If there was a shot that stood out to Spieth, it was his drive on the 426-yard 12th hole that rolled along the dry turf and finished 83 yards away. It wasn’t so much the distance, that left him a lob wedge to 12 feet for birdie, but the swing.

“I call it `in front of fade,’ meaning just my sequence was fantastic. It was on plane. It was just exactly what I’ve been working toward,” Spieth said. “And I just hit this 5-yard fade that held the wind up the middle of the fairway.

“When I hit that shot I walked off saying, `This could be a really good day if I keep pressing how that just felt,'” he said.

And it turned out to be just that.

Waialae holds happy memories for Kirk. Two years ago, after stepping away to deal with alcoholism and depression, he had one last start on a medical extension to keep his card and shot 65 on the last day to tie for second, regaining full playing privileges.

Now he’s in a good spot, and he made eight birdies against two bogeys.

Kirk, like the majority of the first full-field tournament of the year, has not played in seven weeks since The RSM Classic at Sea Island. But he worked plenty hard in the offseason, especially on his fitness, and he has hit the ground running.

Kirk’s hard work included some fun times. He hired a new trainer, Jake Crane, who has a baseball background and Kirk said he would pitch or take swings from a pitching swing during some of the downtime.

There isn’t much of a chance for a career change. His fastball tops out at about 65 mph, though he is proud of his breaking pitch. But mostly, it’s about his condition.

“I always kind of show up to this tournament feeling good and fit,” Kirk said. “That’s my No. 1 goal this year, is to try to maintain it and work harder in the gym when I’m home in the off weeks.”

As for Montgomery, his biggest concern was the seven-week break from the fall schedule, which he played well. The Las Vegas rookie finished in the top 15 at six of his seven tournaments and didn’t seem to miss a beat.

Most concerning was the 10 days he spent without a golf club in hand while seeing family in Colorado and Nevada, which Montgomery says was his longest break ever.

“When you’re on the golf course you think about being on vacation and then when you’re on vacation I feel like I’m thinking about golf,” he said.

But his putting never left him, and he gets a fresh start Friday morning.

Michael Castillo, the Kapalua club pro who qualified for his first PGA TOUR event at age 60 while battling cancer, opened with a 79.

Related Articles


About Author

(0) Readers Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.