HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC – APRIL 15: Satoshi Kodaira of Japan reacts after making his birdie putt on the third playoff hole on the 17th green during the final round the 2018 RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links on April 15, 2018, in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
By Christopher Powers
Heading into the final round of the RBC Heritage it was still anybody’s tournament. While Ian Poulter looked poised to grab a second victory in three weeks, a few intriguing names lurked a few shots back in need of low rounds to steal the victory.
It’s fair to say Satoshi Kodaira was probably not one of the names on anyone’s radar.
But it was Japan’s Kodaira who vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with one of the low rounds of the day, a five-under 66 that put him in the clubhouse at 12 under, where he needed help to even get into a playoff. Thanks to the late-round struggles of Si Woo Kim, Kodaira got the necessary help and found himself facing off with Kim in a sudden-death playoff (the 10th on tour already in 2017-’18). On the third playoff hole, Kodaira’s 24½-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th sealed the deal, giving him his first career PGA Tour win.
“I didn’t think it would come this quickly,” said the 28-year-old from Tokyo. “I was nervous going into the playoff. But I’m very very happy to make that putt.”
Entering the final round five strokes back—and with the entire day’s playing several hours earlier than originally scheduled to avoid bad weather predicted for the afternoon—Kodaira closed the gap quickly, making three consecutive birdies to open his round at Harbour Town Golf Links and adding four more on the day.
The victory comes in just Kodaira’s 15th PGA Tour start, something that seems surprising until you consider his resume on the Japan Tour, where he’s won six times since 2013, including twice this past fall. Ranked No. 46 in the world to start the week, Kodaira hadn’t finished inside the top 30 on the PGA Tour until last week, when he tied for 28th at the Masters. He’ll get more chances soon though, as he confirmed he’ll accept a full-time PGA Tour membership after the win.
As for South Korea’s Kim, a win would have given him a tour victory in three consecutive seasons, but his putter failed him late in his round, as he missed putts of four, five, seven and six feet over his last four holes, including a birdie putt on 18 at that would’ve won the tournament.
“I felt I had a lot of chances to win. And after I started missing some, I got nervous,” Kim said. “But I give props to my opponent, he made a great putt on the last one.”
The solo second is Kim’s best finish of the season, and his second in the top three, the first coming in the fall at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.
Finishing in a tie for third at 11 under were Luke List and Bryson DeChambeau, who also carded a five-under 66 after Saturday’s four-over 75 that knocked him out of contention. List’s three bogeys on his final six holes ultimately cost him a chance at notching his first tour victory. He’s now finished T-5 or better three times this season.
As for Poulter, a closing 75 included five back-nine bogeys, as the Englishman playing in his sixth straight PGA Tour event fell to T-7.