HONOLULU — The spoils of this year's Sony Open belonged to Kevin Na, a winner for the fourth straight PGA Tour season after coming from three shots behind with six holes to play for a one-shot victory with a birdie on the final hole at Waialae Country Club.
The consolation prize belonged to Chris Kirk, and it felt like a win on Sunday afternoon.
Kirk stepped away from golf in May 2019 because of alcoholism and depression, a decision he feels saved himself, his family and his career. In Honolulu, he was playing the final event of a medical extension the tour awarded him for lost time, and he delivered a 5-par-under 65 to finish one shot behind Na, who had the same closing score to finish at 21-under 259.
The birdie on the final hole gave Kirk enough points to regain full status on the tour.
"It totally changes everything being able to be back to picking my schedule like I'm used to over the last number of years," said Kirk, a former University of Georgia standout. "To go into a week and say I've got to finish top three to keep going and do it is silly. I'm thankful God put me in a great situation, and you never know what's going to happen."
Na could have felt similarly.
The Sony Open's leaderboard is typically so crowded at the top that no one is safe and no one is ever out of it. Na only looked to be out of it when he missed a six-foot birdie putt on the 11th and then three-putted for bogey from 40 feet on the 12th to fall three shots behind Brendan Steele.
However, Steele faltered at Waialae for the second straight year as Na bounced back with three straight birdies and delivered the winning shot with a 5-wood from the rough that put the ball just over the back of the green on the par-5 18th, leaving him a simple up-and-down finish for a birdie.
"I was playing maybe a little bit more aggressive coming down the stretch, not worrying so much about second or third, more focused on just that — winning," said the 37-year-old Na, who now has five PGA Tour wins. "Every year, I hope to win and I expect to win on the right golf courses."
Kirk and Joaquin Niemann (66) shared second place, but it only felt good to one of them. Niemann was runner-up for the second straight week in Hawaii, having finished the two events there 45 under par without a trophy. A week earlier, he lost on the first hole of a playoff at Kapalua Resort on Maui, where the winner was Baylor School graduate Harris English.
"Just another good week, so happy for that," said Niemann, who left Hawaii with $1,369,400 in earnings.
English tied for 32nd at 12 under after closing with a 67, and the bid for a former Red Raiders standout to win for the second straight week on tour ended as Keith Mitchell — tied for ninth through 54 holes after back-to-back 62s — shot a 68 to tie for 14th at 16 under.
Steele (69) shared fourth with Webb Simpson (64) and Australia's Marc Leishman (65).
Na, who turned pro out of high school, didn't win until his eighth season. It was seven more seasons until he won again, but now he's up to four seasons in a row.
"I think experience is the reason why I've been winning," he said. "When you do it again, you know it seems like the next one comes easier. ... I think more about winning since I've been winning more often."
It was hard to think that way when he was running out of time. From the rough left of the 13th, his approach shot left the ball less than 15 feet away from the cup for the first of three straight birdies.
As for Steele, it was another year of disappointment in paradise, this one more of a slow leak. Steele last year had a two-shot lead with two to play at Waialae and wound up losing in a playoff. This time, he made an 18-foot eagle putt on the ninth hole to take a three-shot lead into the back nine but stumbled to a bogey on No. 10, dropped another shot on the 14th and missed a seven-foot putt when he had a chance to close with a birdie.