HONOLULU — Two weeks in Hawaii brought rain, unusually strong wind, playoffs and two players who thought victory was out of reach until the winner’s lei was draped around their necks.
Cameron Smith was the latest Sunday at the Sony Open.
He might have been even more surprised than Justin Thomas, who got a second chance when he won a playoff at Kapalua.
“Two or three holes left, I really didn’t think there was much of a shot,” Smith said after his playoff victory over Brendan Steele on rain-soaked Waialae Country Club. “I knew I had to play some good golf. It just kind of all fell into place.”
Smith was 4-over par just two holes into the tournament Thursday, and his focus turned to making birdies that would give him a chance to salvage his round and raise money for the wildfires in his native Australia. Smith and Marc Leishman had pledged $500 for every birdie to help raise money.
He twice pulled within shot of the lead at various points Sunday, but it looked like a lost cause when Steele had a two-shot lead with two holes to play.
“I thought I had to birdie 17 and then do something really good on 18,” Smith said. “You never know what can happen.”
Steele missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th, and his lead was down to one shot.
On No. 18, Steele pulled a 2-iron so wildly to the left that it was near the ropes lining the 10th fairway. After a free drop, he hit wedge off the muddy lie to 30 feet, taking a reasonable birdie putt out of the equation. His par gave him a 71 and opened the way for Smith.
“My first individual win on the PGA Tour, it’s definitely going to be one I never forget,” Smith said. “Given the conditions and how tough it was, I’ll draw back on this in the future.”
For the week, Smith made 21 birdies for $10,500 toward the Australian fires relief fund, along with other contributions from the PGA Tour and $125,000 from the International team at the Presidents Cup.
It was personal for Smith. His uncle lives in New South Wales and lost everything but a shed.
“We’re a tight-knit family and it hit everyone pretty hard,” he said. “It’s good to do something good, and hopefully puts a smile on their face.”