HONOLULU – Russell Henley made a series of key putts late in his round Saturday and salvaged a 3-under 67 that gave him a two-shot lead over Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama in the Sony Open.
Matsuyama made up plenty of ground with a 63, taking only 25 putts even if he had no idea how some of them went in. He caught up with Henley briefly by closing with a 15-foot birdie putt.
Henley regained the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole. He kept it by avoiding a long three-putt on the 16th, making a comebacker from 8 feet. He made a 15-footer on the 17th to create a cushion.
Starting out with a three-shot lead and posting a 67 was not the worst of days for Henley, even if he would have expected more in another day of limited wind.
He was at 18-under 192 and will be paired with Matsuyama, as popular in Honolulu as any stop on the PGA Tour outside Japan.
Matsuyama will be going for his second win his season — he won the Zozo Championship outside Tokyo last fall — and the eighth of his career, which would tie him with K.J. Choi of South Korea for most wins by an Asian-born player.
This is hardly a two-man race at Waialae, a course with a history of players coming out of the pack with something in the low 60s, and such a score is certainly possible in these conditions.
Seamus Power of Ireland birdied his last two holes for a 65, leaving him four shots behind, along with Matt Kuchar (67) and Adam Svensson of Canada (65) and Haotong Li of China, who was in the mix until a tough finish.
Li was one shot behind with four holes to play. But then Henley birdied the 15th, and Li made a mess of the 16th hole, which bends to the left round houses and out toward the Pacific, the big “W” of palm trees behind the green.
Li went way left off the tee. He went way right with his shot, some 20 yards beyond the 17th tee. He hacked out short and chipped long and took two putts for a double bogey. That left him four shots behind, but he didn't lose his sense of humor.
With his tee shot on a decent line off the tee at the par-3 17th, Li said loud enough for the gallery to hear, “Hole-in-one, please.” No such luck. He missed a birdie putt from just inside 15 feet, finishing with a long two-putt birdie and still had hope.
Lucas Glover (64) and Kevin Kisner (65) were five shots behind.
So much depends on Henley, who dropped two shots and made enough birdies to keep his distance as he goes for his second win at the Sony Open. He won at Waialae in the first tournament of his rookie season in 2013.
“Russell seems to be the guy when he gets out in front and is playing well and confident, he seems to rise to the occasion,” Kisner said. “I think he's going to be a tough competitor to try to beat.”
Matsuyama looked up to the task, especially late in his round. He knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 13th, and then holed a 15-footer for par on the next hole.
He laid well back off the 15th tee with a 4-iron, a smart move because he was in the right side of the fairway with a large tree blocking his way to the pin on the right of the green. He had an 8-iron and enough room to sent it over the tree to 15 feet for another birdie.
“Putting was a strong point today. Even my missed putts found the hole,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter. “I was lucky today.”