HONOLULU (AP) — The surname alone gets Ryan Palmer some attention when he tells people he plays golf for a living. There are times when Palmer will play along and not bother to correct anyone who wonders if he is related to one of the biggest names in golf.
For a brief moment Sunday in the Sony Open, he showed flashes of Arnold Palmer.
First came the hard-charging chip, even if Palmer never meant to hit it that hard, which dramatically banged into the middle of the pin on the 18th green and settled inches away for a tap-in birdie. Then came the raw emotion, a smile he couldn’t contain as he fell backward to the ground in a mixture of shock and relief.
Moments later, when Robert Allenby failed to make a birdie putt from just inside 10 feet, Palmer had a one-shot victory and his immediate future looked as bright as the sun that shone down on the Waikiki shores all week.
“Lucky bounce,” said Palmer, who closed with a 4-under 66. “You need things like that to win.”
It wasn’t entirely luck.
Palmer and Allenby were tied over the final three holes at Waialae, and when Steve Stricker failed to make birdie from a bunker on the par-5 18th a few groups ahead of them, the Sony Open came down to who could birdie the final hole.
Both were in the right rough, not unusual on a dogleg left with the ocean breeze at their back. Palmer was counting on his ball to jump out of a good lie, yet his 5-iron came out soft and stopped 50 feet short in the fairway. Allenby had the same yardage as Saturday when he hit a 4-iron, this time he hit a 5-iron and it went even farther, over the green. From there, he played a lofted pitch to just inside 10 feet.
When he hit his chip, Palmer expected the worst.
“I knew it was going to land too far,” Palmer said. “And I though, ‘Oh, gosh.’ When I first hit, I could tell I just caught it thin enough where it was going to release a lot more. It bounced on the line and it went my way.”
It was a bitter loss for Allenby, although he could still see the big picture. He wasn’t even sure he could play this week after spraining his right ankle on Monday when he stepped awkwardly off a curb.
No one came to Honolulu in better form. Allenby was trying to win his third consecutive tournament on his third different tour, a feat that was believed to have never been done. He stuck it out to the end, and had few regrets except for a 10-foot putt that turned away.
“It’s so easy to look back and say, ‘I could have made that, I could have made that.’ At the end of the day,” Allenby said, “realistically I needed to make a birdie at the last.”
Allenby had to settle for par and a 67, and it could be a while before he gets another shot at history like that.
Palmer, who finished at 15-under 265 and earned $990,000, remained dazed at what he had achieved in the hour after hoisting the trophy and having a lei draped around his neck.
He last won in the Fall Series at the end of the 2008 season, which brought the 33-year-old Texan a two-year exemption. After dealing with a minor shoulder surgery in the offseason, he lost focus and finished 150th on the money list. This was his final year of eligibility on the PGA Tour, and he was determined to the season started right.
Winning the Sony Open was beyond his expectations.
The victory makes him exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2012 season. He’s going to the Masters for the first time in five years. He now is exempt for The Players Championship and the PGA Championship, and at least one World Golf Championship.
“What a way to start a year,” Palmer said. “Now I’ve got some tournaments to get ready for and get excited about. The pressure is off now. Just go out and enjoy the year.”
Despite the chip that hit the pin, a week in which his worst round was a 68, it all started for Palmer when he was looking for something to read and found a newspaper article about defending champion Zach Johnson, who spoke about his strategy of taking one day at a time. It made sense to Palmer, so he gave it a try.
“Play for the day,” he kept telling himself, a reminder not to think ahead.
Palmer was atop the leaderboard all four days, yet he showed up at Waialae acting as though he was starting from scratch.
“I played each day for that day,” he said. “I played Thursday for Thursday only. I wanted to win today.”
It was the third career victory for Palmer, and by far the biggest. He won at Disney in 2004 with a 62 in the final round. He recovered from a disastrous stretch at the defunct Ginn sur Merr Classic in Florida with birdies down the stretch.
This was the most meaningful victory of all.
“What I got out of this is beyond words,” Palmer said. “It was a great field, some of the top players here. I never once got upset, impatient. What I did today is probably one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever experienced.”
It wasn’t just Allenby he was playing against.
Stricker, who could challenge Phil Mickelson for No. 2 in the world during the West Coast swing, made birdies around the turn and was tied for the lead briefly on the back nine. His hopes ended with a par on the 18th hole. Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen started seven shots behind and finished atop the leaderboard with a tournament-best 62, although it didn’t last. He finished fourth.
Allenby had few complaints except for having to settle for par on the last hole.
“Ryan played great,” he said. “He hit a lot of good shots and hit a lot of good putts.”