Harris English winner of the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Pic: Getty Images.
KAPALUA, Hawaii, Jan 11: In normal times, Harris English would not even have been in the field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. Nor would Joaquin Niemann have been there. Yet, in times, when normal is a far cry, English beat Niemann on the first play-off hole to win the PGA Tour’s first event in 2021.
English caught up with Niemann at 25-under 267. English defeated Niemann with a birdie-4 on the first extra hole (No. 18). The win came 193 starts since his last PGA TOUR win. It is his third PGA TOUR title in his 250th start at the age of 31 years, 5 months, 18 days
The win came seven years after his last success. English missed a 10-foot eagle putt in regulation on the par-5 18th hole at Kapalua for a 4-under 69 to force a playoff with Niemann, and he ended it on the 18th with a 6-foot birdie.
English won for the third time in his career, and his first title since the Mayakoba Classic at the end of 2013, his second victory of that year.
Earlier Niemann closed with a 64. In the play-off he pulled his approach enough to tumble down the steep hill. His full swing from thick grass got him to the fringe, but he missed the birdie putt.
The Tournament of Champions is usually for winners only from the previous year, but the field was expanded to include anyone who reached the TOUR Championship because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the PGA TOUR for three months.
The fact English made it to the TOUR Championship indicated he was turning his game around. He ended the previous season without a full card.
Now the 31-year-old from Georgia is second in the FedExCup standings and guaranteed a return to Kapalua next year.
Niemann had eight birdies through 14 holes and matched the low score of the tournament. His regret might be a 6-foot birdie putt he missed in regulation. All he could do was wait, and he spent most of that hour at a picnic table with Sergio Garcia and their wives, heading to the practice green as English was coming up the 18th.
Justin Thomas stayed in contention but his 66 left him one shot out of the playoff. He missed an 8-foot birdie chance on the 16th, and then three-putted on the 17th for bogey. A birdie on the final hole wasn’t enough.
Dustin Johnson, in his first start since winning the Masters in mid-November tied for 11th, ending his streak of seven consecutive top 10s dating to the first week in August.
Asian Angle – Korea’s Im finishes top-5 in Sentry debut
Korea’s Sungjae Im began his New Year in typical fashion with an impressive top-five performance in his Sentry Tournament of Champions debut at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui, Hawaii on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Asian star concluded his week in a share of fifth place alongside 2019 winner Xander Schauffele following a final round of 4-under 69, thanks to three closing birdies, for a 21-under 271 finish. Im ended four shots behind winner English, who triumphed over Niemann in a sudden-death playoff after both players tied on 25-under 267 after an enthralling final day.
Straight-shooting Im began the final round four off the pace and birdied his opening hole from five feet before giving away shots on Hole Nos 2 and 3. With his putter staying cold for much of the day, he battled gamely before finishing strongly with birdies on Hole Nos. 13, 16, 17 and 18 for his 16th career top-10 in what was his 72nd career start on the PGA TOUR.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, the other Asian representative in the elite 42-man field limited to tournament winners in 2020 and the top-30 finishers from last season’s FedExCup final standings, finished at the opposite end of the leaderboard following rounds of 73-75-72-68 for a 4-under 288 aggregate to finish tied 41st.