Late smash and grab sees Grayson Murray take the spoils in Hawaii

Mark McGowan
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Grayson Murray (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Grayson Murray twice birdied the 18th hole at Waialae Country Club, the first a short putt to force his way into a three-man playoff, the second a near 40-foot bomb that would ultimately seal victory on the first playoff hole.

This was Murray’s second PGA Tour win, and first in a non-opposite event, and sees the 30-year-old secure a maiden invitation to tee it up at Augusta National in April, less than a year after finally admitting that alcoholism had become a problem and turning his back on the bottle.

Playing in the final group alongside Keegan Bradley and Sam Stevens, the trio all struggled to make any real impact on the opening nine, with Stevens ejecting early, Murray carding eight successive pars before a first birdie at the par-5 ninth, and Bradley making seven pars and a bogey before eagling just before the turn.

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By this stage, Russell Henley and Carl Yuan had leapfrogged them, and JT Poston and Ben An were lurking with intent. Playing several groups in front, it would be Yuan who’d have the first opportunity to set a commanding clubhouse target, but sitting on -17 after 16 holes, he bogeyed the par-3 17th and then fanned a fairway wood way right from the fairway bunker at the last, unable to get the ball up-and-down for birdie after a fortuitous drop from the hospitality tents.

Next up, Henley, who’d made it to -17 after 13 holes but bogeyed the 16th, had an 11-footer on the last to squeeze out Yuan, but he too failed to finish his round with birdie and, in all likelihood, knew he’d come up at least a shot shy.

This was confirmed when Ben An gave himself a 13-foot eagle putt on 18 which would’ve taken him to -18 overall, but had to settle for birdie and a -17 tally that took Henley and Yuan out of the equation. Back on the tee box, Bradley was in pole position, however, having birdied two of his last eight holes and, failing Murray eagling the last, knew birdie was enough to secure a seventh PGA Tour victory.

A wide tee shot didn’t help matters, nor did the same for Murray who’d managed a sublime par-save from the bunker on 17 to keep his hopes alive, and both players were forced to lay up. Bradley, hitting first, came up well short and Murray hit a delightful approach to kick-in distance, meaning a three-man playoff with Bradley and An after the former had two-putted.

None of the three found the green in two on the first playoff hole, with Murray wedging to 39 feet from 103 yards, Bradley’s pitch and run coming up about 20 feet shy and An, best placed of the trio after two, hitting a delicate chip to four feet.

But Murray was a man on a mission, and the lengthy putt never looked anywhere other than the centre of the cup, sparking jubilant celebration as the pressure now switched firmly to his opponents’ shoulders. Bradley’s putt slipped past, leaving An standing over his four-footer with the simple equation of hole-it or lose. He missed the hole entirely, as Murray, buried his head in his caddie’s chest for an extended moment before shaking hands.

“There are days where I didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said at Waialae Country Club. “I just thought I was a failure. I always looked at myself as a failure. I thought I had a lot of talent that was just a waste of talent.

“It was a bad place,” he added, “but like I said, you have to have courage. You have to have the willingness to keep going. Lo and behold, that’s what I did, and I’m here, and I’m so blessed and I’m thankful.”

“I knew I had to give it a chance,” he said of what turned out the be the winning putt, though he’d fully expected An to make his. “I wasn’t going to leave it short. Obviously 100 percent of the putts that you leave short don’t go in. I just gave it my best stroke, and obviously it went in.

“Yeah, I stayed positive. That’s all you can do. I think there’s so many ups and downs throughout the round. You’ve just got to play your game.

“I know it’s so cliche, but it’s true. You just have to focus in on what you’re trying to do and know that your good enough is good enough.”

Seamus Power’s week ended in disappointing fashion as he signed off with a two-over par 72 to finish tied for 74th at -1. The Waterford man doesn’t have to look far for to discover what went wrong this week, however, as he’d lose almost nine-and-a-half strokes to the field on the greens, finishing dead last in Strokes-Gained-Putting and he now heads east to California for next week’s American Express Championship with a lot of work to do on the putting green.

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