Story by Justin Jarrett | Photos by Tom Cloud
Asked what he thought of his new jacket Sunday afternoon at Harbour Town Golf Links, Satoshi Kodaira looked down at his new duds, and gave a wry smile.
“I will probably not wear it regularly,” Kodaira said through an interpreter. ”But it is special.”
The day he earned his red tartan jacket will be one the 28-year-old from Japan forever remembers. Kodaira charged from a six-shot deficit to start the day before defeating 22-year-old South Korean Si Woo Kim in a three-hole playoff to win the 50th RBC Heritage.
Kodaira isn’t exactly a household name for American golf fans, but he soon could be. The win gives him the opportunity to join the PGA Tour full-time – a “dream come true” that he plans to accept.
The victory comes in Kodaira’s 15th PGA Tour start, but he has an accomplished record on the Japan Tour, where he has won six times since 2013, including twice last fall.
And if he plays the way he did this week, there could be more victories in his future. After opening with a 2-over-par 73 on Thursday, Kodaira posted the best round of the week with an 8-under-par 63 in the second round. He couldn’t get putts to drop during a 1-under 70 on Saturday but made birdies on his first three holes Sunday to surge back into contention.
Kodaira’s initial goal on Sunday was to finish in the top 10 and earn a spot in the field at next week’s Valero Texas Open, and even when he held the clubhouse lead at 12-under, earning his first PGA Tour victory seemed unlikely.
Kim shot 3-under on the front nine to reach 15-under, but his putter – and perhaps his nerves – failed him on the back nine. He missed an 11-foot putt to save par at No. 12, a 5-foot par putt at No. 15, and a 6-footer for par at No. 17 to slide back to the field. Still, he had a chance to win with a 7-foot birdie chance on the 72nd hole but slid it just past the edge of the cup.
Kim stayed alive with a sand save on the first playoff hole, and both settled for pars on the second extra hole to send it to No. 17, where Kodaira gave a fist pump as his 25-footer rolled in and celebrated after Kim left his birdie try a few inches short of the cup.
“I didn’t have the momentum going (into the playoff),” Kim said through an interpreter. “Obviously on the final hole in regulation, I missed a short one. But I give props to my opponent, he made a great putt on the last one.”
Bryson DeChambeau and Luke List were one putt away from joining the playoff, as DeChambeau rebounded from a 4-over 75 on Saturday to shoot 66 – closing with four straight birdies – and List missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole to finish 1-over for the day and one off the pace.
Several times during his post-round press conference, Kodaira evoked the name of Hideki Matsuyama, his countryman who has five times on the PGA Tour and ranks eighth in the world. Kodaira hopes to one day enjoy the same level of success Matsuyama has seen in the states – and in major championships – but for now, he is thrilled to have a new trophy and jacket, even if it might not be considered fashionable in Japan.
“I was aware that the first (Heritage) tournament was won by Mr. (Arnold) Palmer, and I understand there’s a lot of great players that have won here,” Kodaira said. “Being among that group is an honor.”
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