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Dave Reardon: Most saw sunny days ahead for Sony winner Murray

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In early January, Hawaii hosts the PGA's all-star event for the previous year (The Sentry), followed the next week by the first full-field event of the season (the Sony Open in Hawaii).

This year, those obvious storylines were augmented by inspirational human interest angles.

Both events featured comeback stories about mid-career professionals who fought physical and mental challenges — while in the public eye of their very high-profile and high-pressure jobs.

They were battle-scarred — not just by golf, but by life.

Gary Woodland, 39 and the 2019 U.S. Open winner, returned to the tour at the Sony Open less than four months after brain surgery. He didn't make the cut at Waialae, but he has in his past three tournaments and tied for 21st at the Texas Children's Houston Open in March.

Chris Kirk, 38, won The Sentry at Kapalua and afterward talked about overcoming his worst enemy: himself, when he abused alcohol.

"Definitely the best thing that I've ever done in my life is to get sober," said Kirk, who stopped drinking five years ago, around the time he took a six-month leave of absence from competitive golf, citing depression. "It's 100% the reason why I'm able to do what I do. ... My PGA Tour career would have been over a while ago had I not gotten sober."

Another player with a history of problems with alcohol and depression was asked about Kirk a few days later on Oahu.

"Chris is an inspiration," said Grayson Murray, who first went into rehab in 2021. "You know, I think he's been pretty vocal about his story as well. You can see the success after he got sober, how quickly he had success out here on tour, became the player that he was before, and even better."

That was after Saturday's third round at Waialae, when Murray was tied with Keegan Bradley atop a tightly packed leaderboard.

That Sunday, Murray prevailed. He won a three-way playoff with Bradley and Ben An with a 38-foot birdie putt, capturing his second PGA Tour victory, and first in seven years.

Like Kirk the week before on Maui, Murray spent much of his post-victory press conference answering questions about his past of dealing with alcohol abuse and depression, hoping it would help others.

The Sony win came after eight months of sobriety, Murray said, and three years after a drunken incident at a Hawaii hotel bar.

"I think the alcohol brought a side out of me that wasn't me. It was kind of the monster in me in a way," Murray said. "I would drink during tournament weeks. It was my outlet. I thought I was invincible coming out here as a 22-year-old, winning as a rookie, played three days hungover when I won. Best thing and worst thing that ever happened to me was winning my rookie year (2017)."

Murray spoke that day with poise, gratitude, humility and optimism. He was at the top of his professional world, and he said his personal life was great, too. His fiancee, Christiana Ritchie, was in his gallery every round, and Murray spoke of how much support from her and other loved ones meant to him.

Now, less than five months later, Murray is dead at age 30. Eric and Terry Murray said in a statement Sunday that their son died by suicide on Saturday.

Justin Rose posted on Instagram that he played with Murray in three recent tournaments, and did not notice anything alarming.

Murray made seven of 11 cuts after Sony, including 51st at The Masters and 43rd at the PGA Championship. He tied for 10th at the Wells Fargo Championship earlier this month.

Peter Malnati played the first two days of last week's Charles Schwab Challenge with Murray, who withdrew citing illness after the 16th hole of the second round.

"You know, we're so competitive, so competitive out here. We all want to beat each other. And then something like this happens and you realize we're all just humans," Malnati said in a CBS interview Sunday, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. "This is just a really, really hard day because you look at Grayson and you see in him someone who has visibly, outwardly struggled in the past, and he's been open about it. And you see him get his life back to a place where he's feeling good about things."

That certainly seemed to be true on that Sunday in January. Everything we could see and hear indicated the worst was in the past for Grayson Murray, and he'd be back to start 2025 at Kapalua, and then the next week as defending champion at Waialae.