10 Notes to Know: January 18, 2021

January 18, 2021
Justin Ray
  1. Kevin Na birdied four of his last six holes to win the Sony Open, his fifth career PGA Tour title. Na has now won in each of the last four PGA Tour seasons, one of just five players with an active streak of four or more years. The others are Dustin Johnson (14 seasons), Bryson DeChambeau (5), Justin Thomas (5) and Jon Rahm (4).
  1. Na was 14-under-par over the last two rounds, gaining more than 3.5 strokes on his approach shots during that span. Na found his form on the greens as the week progressed, too – he improved his field ranking in strokes gained putting in every round this week.
  1. A windless Waialae Country Club provided little challenge for the world’s best players: at 67.75, the tournament scoring average was the lowest in this tournament’s history. The field was a combined 879-under-par for the week, a massive difference from the tougher conditions Mother Nature handed out in 2020. That year, the field was 215-over-par, a difference of 1,094 strokes. Saturday’s third round yielded a scoring average of 66.66, the lowest single-round average in any PGA Tour event since 2003.
  1. Needing a top-three finish in his final start of a Major Medical Extension, Chris Kirk put together maybe the most impressive performance of the week. Kirk finished tied for second, his best PGA Tour result since the fall of 2016. Kirk played his last 13 holes in 7-under, and now retains his full playing status for the rest of the season.
  1. Joaquin Niemann put together another scorching week, finishing tied for second at 20-under-par. Niemann was a combined 45-under-par in the two Hawaii events, the third-best score to par in a single year on the ‘Hawaii Swing’ since the Tournament of Champions moved to Maui more than 20 years ago. The only two better scores – by Thomas in 2017 (-49) and Ernie Els in 2003 (-47) were by players who won the two tournaments, back-to-back.
  1. Webb Simpson shot a closing 64, his 17th round of 65 or lower since the beginning of last season (most on the PGA Tour in that span). Simpson leads all players in scoring average in that span (68.18) and is third in final round scoring in that stretch (68.11). Simpson now has 12 top-ten finishes in his last 22 worldwide starts.
  1. For the second consecutive year, Brendan Steele held the 54-hole lead at the Sony Open – but once again, Steele came up short (tied for fourth). Steele is the first player to hold the 54-hole lead in the same PGA Tour event in back-to-back years – and win neither instance – in more than a decade. The last time it happened was in 2008 and 2009, when Sean O’Hair led the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but eventually lost each year to Tiger Woods.
  1. Marc Leishman finished tied for fourth, his best worldwide result in ten months (runner-up at last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational). Leishman gained more than 1.5 strokes per round on his approach shots for the week, his best performance in that statistic since his win at the Farmers Insurance Open last year. Leishman was third in the field for the week in average approach shot proximity from the fairway.
  1. The PGA Tour shifts to California next week for The American Express, another event that will require contenders to go low. Since 2012, winners at this event have averaged 27.7 birdies or eagles for the week. The PGA Tour average for tournament winners during that same span is 21.5. Jon Rahm, who will be among the pre-tournament favorites, has finished first and sixth in his last two appearances here (2018, 2019).
  1. The European Tour season begins Thursday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Rory McIlroy will make his first start of 2021 looking to break one of the more bizarre records in sports. McIlroy has never won in his first start of a calendar year, but has finished fifth or better in his first event in 12 of the last 13 years. That includes a top-five everywhere he’s started his year since 2014.