Ko­daira ral­lies to win at RBC Heritage

Lethbridge Herald - - HERALD SPORTS | TOP STORIES -

Early on, Satoshi Ko­daira was think­ing only of play­ing well enough Sun­day to make it to next week’s PGA Tour stop.

Those wor­ries are over for the 28-year-old from Ja­pan, who ral­lied from six shots be­hind to win the RBC Heritage in a play­off and gain an in­vi­ta­tion to join the tour as a reg­u­lar.

“This is a stage I’ve been dream­ing about,” Ko­daira said through an in­ter­preter. “And hav­ing this op­por­tu­nity to play full time is a dream come true. So, of course, I will ac­cept full­time mem­ber­ship.”

Ko­daira de­feated Si Woo Kim on the third play­off hole, rolling in a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 17th hole, then punch­ing his fist in cel­e­bra­tion. It ended a dra­mafilled fi­nal round in which it ap­peared that Kim, Ian Poulter and Luke List had the lock on the ti­tle at dif­fer­ent points.

But it was Ko­daira’s re­lent­less grind to the top that won the day. And with the game he showed at Har­bour Town Golf Links, Ko­daira ap­pears like he’s got more big mo­ments on tour ahead like coun­try­man and five-time tour win­ner Hideki Mat­suyama.

“I feel like I’m get­ting closer to that level,” said Ko­daira, who is ranked 46th in the world and has played in 15 tour events. “I’d like to do my best in ma­jor cham­pi­onships and, hope­fully, work hard at it.”

Bryson DeCham­beau (66) and List (72) were tied for third. Third-round leader Poulter’s bid for a sec­ond tour ti­tle in three weeks ended with a 75 and a tie for sev­enth.

Start­ing times for the fi­nal round were moved up be­cause of a fore­cast for bad weather.

Ko­daira won $1.206 mil­lion. He’ll be ex­empt on the PGA Tour through the 2019-20 season.

The tour­na­ment ap­peared in steady hands with Kim, whose bull­dog fo­cus and shot-mak­ing held ev­ery­one off to win The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship last May. But the 22-year-old from South Korea fal­tered over his fi­nal nine holes of reg­u­la­tion, with three bo­geys to fall into the tie with Ko­daira.

Kim had the chance to win in reg­u­la­tion but missed a six­foot birdie putt on the 18th hole. Ko­daira said that was the most ner­vous he was dur­ing his wait of about an hour be­fore the play­off.

Ko­daira might have had a few but­ter­flies on the fi­nal play­off hole as Kim had a 21foot birdie try to ex­tend things, but he came up short.

Kim thought the in­creased winds slowed down the greens, mak­ing putts more dif­fi­cult on the fi­nal nine holes. “But I tried my best and the putts didn’t drop,” Kim said. “It is what it is.”

Poulter, who dra­mat­i­cally won the Hous­ton Open two weeks ago for his first tour win in more than five years, had six bo­geys Sun­day af­ter mak­ing just two in his first three rounds.

Ko­daira was the hard­est charged and few even re­al­ized un­til the fi­nal three­some of Kim, Poulter and List all came back to the pack. Ko­daira be­came the sixth straight RBC Heritage cham­pion who was three strokes down or more at the start of the fi­nal round.

Play­ing Har­bour Town for the first time, Ko­daira opened with a 73, then fol­lowed with the tour­na­ment’s best round of the week, 63, on Fri­day. That game kicked in once more in the fi­nal round, with six birdies on the way to the play­off.

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