HONOLULU – Mark Wilson barely had time to eat a sandwich, much less keep track of his round, when he arrived at the 17th green Sunday afternoon at the Sony Open and realized he had not made a single bogey during this 36-hole marathon.
His four-shot lead had dwindled to a stroke. Wilson was staring at a 12-foot par putt, and the closing hole was a par 5 that he had not been able to reach all week.
The thought was fleeting. The way his week had gone, the outcome was predictable.
“I thought about that before I hit the putt,” Wilson said. “I haven’t made a bogey all day, so why start now? It entered my mind, but when I was over the putt, I didn’t think about it.”
The putt curled in the side, and Wilson started his season with a win to earn his first trip to the Masters.
Wilson shot a 5-under 65 in the morning to take a one-shot lead into the afternoon round. With six minutes between rounds – enough time to get a chicken sandwich and a fresh box of golf balls from his locker – he closed with a 3-under 67 and held off late runs by Tim Clark and Steve Marino on different sides of Waialae.
Wilson’s last trip to Augusta National was 2001 – as a spectator.
“I get goose bumps thinking about it,” he said.
He nearly got chills watching Marino give himself one last chance with a remarkable shot. Clark had already finished with a 64 and was on the practice range at 14-under par. Marino was 13 under and needed an eagle, which looked improbable when his drive splashed out of the bunker and onto the side of a hill.
With his feet in the sand, and the ball about chest-high on the hill, Marino lashed at it with a fairway metal and watched it hook onto the front of the green and stop 40 feet away.
“I saw the ball, and I thought, ‘OK, eagle is going to be pretty tough for him to make.’ It was one incredible shot,” Wilson said.
Marino’s eagle putt narrowly missed, and Wilson pitched to 4 feet and made a birdie he didn’t need. He finished at 16-under 264 and earned $990,000 for his third career victory.
Clark, who started the final round five shots behind, birdied three of his last four holes. He had a 10-foot birdie putt on No. 8 slide by on the left, and he narrowly missed a 15-foot eagle putt on the last hole.
“It’s a relief to get it in,” Wilson said. “I’m just thrilled to be the champion.”
Wilson played his final 40 holes at Waialae without a bogey. That proved significant twice during his final round, starting on No. 8. He hit a tree with his drive and had to punch out to the fairway, leaving him 150 yards away with his third shot and his lead at two shots. But he stuffed it to 7 feet for par, then birdied the ninth to expand his lead to four.
Jimmy Walker closed with a 68 to finish alone in fourth, while Matt Kuchar and Matt Bettencourt were another shot back. Stuart Appleby and Shigeki Maruyama, who started Sunday tied for the 36-hole lead, never got going. Maruyama thad rounds of 70-69 to tie for seventh, his first top 10 on the PGA Tour in two years. Appleby had a third-round 69, then didn’t make a birdie until the final hole of the last round and shot 72.
From top to bottom, 56 players were separated by only seven shots going into the final 36 holes, a recipe for anyone winning from anywhere. But on a quiet day near the shores of Waikiki, there was little movement.
Wilson chipped in from behind the third green for birdie and kept bogeys off his card a 65, the best score of the third round. It gave him a one-shot lead over Marino, who had a 66, but certainly not much room for error.
Kuchar pulled within one shot early in the fourth round, then dropped out with two straight bogeys. Marino stayed in the picture until a bogey on the eighth, failing to birdie the easy par-5 ninth, and hitting two poor wedges for a bogey on the short 10th.
The big move came from Clark, and he was on the other side of the course.
Because of the 36-hole final – forced by a washout in the first round Thursday – players did not change groups for the afternoon. Clark started the day six shots out of the lead, shot 66 in the morning and made his move on the front nine – his last nine holes. His birdie on No. 6 took him to 12 under, then he nearly made an ace on the par-3 seventh for a tap-in birdie and gave himself two good looks at the end.
“I kind of figured if you could get it going around here, I might still have a chance, even though we were on different nines,” Clark said. “This back nine, I kind of got it going there with some iron shots. A few putts would have helped, but very pleased.”
With the runner-up finish, Clark should move to No. 20 in the world. With Charl Schwartzel winning the Joburg Open earlier Sunday, that means South Africans will occupy the first five spots in the Presidents Cup standings.
Wilson won the Honda Classic in 2007, and a month later Augusta National changed its criteria to invite most PGA Tour winners. He won in Mexico two years later, but that doesn’t count toward the Masters because it is an opposite-field tournament.
Wilson finally returns to Augusta as a player, and he can only hope his celebration ends by April.
“From what I’ve learned over the years is the more you succeed out here, the more people expect of you,” Wilson said. “But I’m going to enjoy this like crazy.”