Rookies Russell Henley and Scott Langley entered Sunday tied for the lead at 17 under and we were left to wonder if either would be able to hold on for the win or let somebody sneak in and steal the Sony Open. Henley and Langley have been paired together for the entire tournament along with veteran Tim Clark who entered the day 3 shots behind. It turned out that it was Henley and Clark were the two battling for the lead while Scott Langley fell from the top spot.
Langley started the day off by shooting bogey on the opening hole, immediately falling out of a tie for 1st place. Russ took advantage of Scott’s bad start knocking in a putt for birdie and putting two strokes between the two before they had even entered the 2nd tee box. Henley was riding a bogey-free streak from the first round and if Clark, Langley or anyone else wanted to gain strokes they would have to do it without Russ hurting himself. Henley’s bogey-free streak would end at 50 holes when he took 5 strokes on the 8th hole. Clark birdied the 8th hole bringing him within a shot of the leader but that is as close as it got for Henley.
Henley would follow up his 2nd bogey of the tournament with back-to-back birdies and then finished the round on fire scoring birdies on the final 5 holes. Clark would birdie 8, 9 and 10 and the final 4 holes but he couldn’t gain any ground on Russ despite shooting his best round of the tournament, 63. Henley was 7 under through the final 10 holes and would finish with his third 63 of the tournament. Add his 67 from Saturday and Henley was 24 under for the tournament shooting 256 while Clark stayed 3 strokes behind and finished in 2nd with a 21 under 259. Scott Langley struggled all day long and although he had 5 birdies in the final 9 holes, he couldn’t overcome the 2 bogeys from the front 9 or the 3 he added on 13, 15 and 16. Langley would finish Sunday’s round with an even par 70 and would finish the tournament with a 17 under 263 tied for 3rd with Charles Howell III.
Henley’s biggest shot came on the 14th green when he started his incredible birdie streak by burying a 45 foot putt to put 3 strokes between him and Clark. Henley’s 72-hole score of 256 set the scoring record for the Sony Open as well as the rookie record for the lowest score in a PGA Tour event and ties him for the 3rd lowest round by any PGA golfer ever. He is the first rookie to win his debut on the PGA Tour since Garrett Willis did it at the 2001 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open. Henley became the 5th player ever to win his first start as a PGA Member joining Willis, Marty Fleckman (1967), Ben Crenshaw (1973) and Robert Gamez. Gamez won the Northern Telecom Tucson Open in 1990 while Fleckman won the 1967 Cajun Classic Open by defeating Jack Montgomery on the first playoff hole.
Hopefully for Henley’s sake his career follows that of Ben Crenshaw who won the 1973 San Antonio Texas Open. That’s because Fleckman and Willis’ only PGA Tour wins were their debuts, while Gamez won 2 tournaments in his rookie year then waited for 15 years for his next win. Between the three of them, Willis, Gamez and Fleckman, they have just 5 career PGA Tour victories. Which is why Henley can only hope to follow in Crenshaw’s footsteps who went on to win 19 PGA Tour events including 2 major championships.
There has already been a lot of talk about the expectations for Russell Henley but we can’t put unrealistic expectations upon a young golfer. If we set expectations that are so high for a kid who won his rookie debut any of his goals will become unattainable no matter what they are. For now let Henley bask in the sunshine for a couple of days before heading off to play in the Humana Challenge. With this win Henley locks up 500 FedEx Cup points, a $1 million check, an invite to The Players Championship, the Masters and the PGA Championship, not to mention his PGA Tour card for the next two years.