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Short-hitting Kevin Na comes up big at Sony Open

Kevin Na wins 2021 Sony Open In Hawaii
American Kevin Na taps in for birdie on the final hole to win the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii on Sunday at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

Na rallies with a 61-65 weekend at Honolulu's Waialae Country Club to win his 5th career title on the PGA Tour

As one of the shortest drivers on the PGA Tour, Kevin Na knows that some courses offer him a far better chance of winning than others.

Honolulu’s Waialae Country Club is one such track.

Na tapped in for birdie on the par-5 18th hole to shoot 5-under 65 for a 21-under 259 total and one-stroke victory Sunday on the tight, tree-lined 1927 Seth Raynor design. It was the first victory for Na in his 14th appearance at Waialae (scores).

“I knew this golf course is one of those courses where I have a chance,” said Na, who ranks 186th in driving distance on the PGA Tour, at 288.2 yards. “I’ve got to take advantage of these golf courses. It’s a big confidence boost.”

Na, 37, won for the fifth time in 18 years on the PGA Tour, with four of those victories having come in the past 2½ years. Chile’s Joaquin Niemann shot 66 to share second place with American Chris Kirk (65) at 20-under 260. It was the second consecutive runner-up for Niemann, who lost in a playoff against Harris English one week earlier at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Hawaii’s Maui island.

With a 9-under 61 in the third round, Na had pulled to within two strokes of 54-hole leader Brendan Steele. Because of a forecast for afternoon storms Sunday, tee times were moved up for the final round, and threesomes were used. Thus, Na, Niemann and Steele were paired together in the final group.

“I felt pretty comfortable all day,” Na said. "I just played my game and hit a lot of solid shots.”

Na, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in the San Diego area, turned pro at age 17 after his junior year of high school. He earned his PGA Tour card at the 2003 Q-School but didn’t win his first title until 2011 in Las Vegas, his adopted hometown.

“When I was young, it took me forever to win and to validate,” Na said. "All these experiences, playing 18 years on tour, are paying off."

Na, who became a naturalized American at age 18, extended greetings in Korean to his extended family in South Korea.

“I’m so happy at home," he said, "and that’s showing up on the golf course out here.”

Steele, who shot 69 to finish T-4 at 19-under 261, blew a 54-hole lead for the second consecutive year at the Sony Open. Last year, he lost in a playoff to Cameron Smith.

Kirk, who bogeyed two of his first three holes, rallied to play 7 under for the final 15 holes in a clutch performance on his final start of a major medical extension after he sought counseling for alcohol abuse. He earned playing privileges for the rest of the 2020-21 season.

"There were a number of years there where I just wasn't very happy with who I was and what I was doing, and I was just kind of trying to hide from that," said Kirk, who spoke openly about his struggles with depression and alcohol. "I chose alcohol to kind of get me away from where I was. You know, a lot of lying and hiding and the life that you live in that situation.

"But I think the biggest perspective for me is, like I was saying, I can wake up every day and I'm happy that I am who I am, and I have nothing to hide. You know, I just feel like I'm doing the best I can and enjoying life. It's as simple as that."

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