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Japan's Kodaira stuns the West


Westerners like World No 1 Dustin Johnson and Ian Poulter, the 3rd round leader, were reduced to spectators as Japan's Satoshi Kodaira and South Korea's Kim Si-woo fought it out in Sunday's all-Asian, sudden-death playoff at the RBC Heritage.

In the end, it was Kodaira, a 28-year-old from Tokyo who has won six times on the Japan Tour and was fresh from a best-ever US finish of 28th at the Masters, who prevailed at the Harbour Town Links at Hilton Head in South Carolina.

Speaking through a translator, Kodaira said he didn't think his first win on the PGA Tour "would come this quickly" and added that he fully intended making use of the two-year exemption that went with the title by adding, "And yes I will take full-time membership.”

“I was nervous going into the playoff," he admitted, "but I was very happy to make that last putt.”

In order to have the traditional winners tartan jacket fitted and to collect the $1.1 million prize money, Kodair had first to come from six shots back to make the sudden-death playoff before he could capture his maiden US PGA Tour title at the 3rd extra hole of the playoff where he was to birdie the par-3 17th after both he and Kim had parred the first two extra holes going down the 18th.

The then World No 46 (now world No 27) and Kim had earlier both completed their final rounds with matching 12-under-par 272s, Kim after closing with a level-par 71, Kodaira after storming home with a sizzling, catch-up 66.

Kodaira, who had moved up from near the back of the field with a spectacular 63 on Friday, was still hot when he opened Sunday's final round with three birdies on the front nine and another on the 10th.

He then sank two more critical birdie putts of 28 feet at the par-3 14th and of 10 feet at the par-5 15th and could have parred his way home to victory from there had he not missed the 17th green and made a late bogey.

Despite those two strong closing rounds, Kodaira could not have done what he did had the final-round front runners not slowed, stumbled and come back to him.

Kim wobbled with some of his drives and approach shots and picked up bogeys at the 12th, the 15th and the 17th to drop back into a tie with Kodaira as he reached the 18th green.

Overnight leader Poulter, aiming to add a second US title to the Houston Open he won two weeks ago, saw his hopes go up in flames when a run of five bogeys on the back nine dragged him down to his sixth final-round 75 this season and into a tie for seventh place.

Luke List another of the most threatening late front-runner, fell away with bogeys on holes 14, 15 and 16, but stopped the rot with a par save from a bunker at 17 and when he put his approach shot just 10 feet from the pin at 18, he looked ready to make the playoff.

Alas, he missed his birdie chance and had to share 3rd place with the stylish US young gun, Bryson DeChambeau, another of the likely winners earlier in the event who ran into trouble and never made it back.

After rounds of 68 and 64, DeChambeau was right up there looking like a winner when he inexplicably blew himself out with a Saturday 75.

A closing 66 carried him back into contention on Sunday, but in the end, he had to be satisfied with that third-place tie with List.

And so, as Kodaira joins Hideki Matsuyama as a recent PGA Tour winner, Japan may be wondering if they have produced another modern-day, potential major winner.

(Par 71 - the US unless stated)

272 Satoshi Kodaira (JPN) 73 63 70 66, Kim Si-woo (KOR) 68 65 68 71 (Kodaira won the playoff at the 3rd extra hole)
273 Bryson DeChambeau 68 64 75 66, Luke List 70 64 67 72
274 Webb Simpson 69 68 69 68, Billy Horschel 66 69 67 72
275 Kevin Streelman 70 70 67 68, Patrick Cantlay 67 72 68 68, Bill Haas 69 66 71 69, An Byeong hun (KOR) 73 67 66 69, Chesson Hadley 66 68 69 72, Kevin Kisner 69 68 66 72, Ian Poulter (ENG) 69 64 67 75
276 Matthew Fitzpatrick (ENG) 69 71 69 67, Jonas Blixt (SWE) 67 73 67 69
277 Beau Hossler 70 69 70 68, JJ Henry 72 69 69 67, Scott Piercy 71 65 71 70, Dustin Johnson 69 69 72 67, Ted Potter Jr 72 66 69 70, Emiliano Grillo (ARG) 72 66 69 70, Ryan Moore 69 69 67 72
278 Tyrone Van Aswegen (RSA) 73 69 66 70, Bud Cauley 71 68 71 68, Charley Hoffman 72 69 66 71, Brian Harman 70 68 69 71, Brandt Snedeker 70 64 72 72, Matt Kuchar 66 70 69 73, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 64 70 70 74, C.T. Pan (TPE) 70 65 67 76.

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Neville Leck

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