Brendan Steele didn’t mince words after coming up short in dramatic fashion Sunday at the Sony Open.
Steele was in search of his first victory in more than two years, and he appeared in position to do so after building a three-shot lead through 54 holes. But the soggy finale at Waialae Country Club didn’t go according to plan, as Steele struggled for much of the afternoon and endured a lengthy delay on the 72nd hole before ultimately losing in a playoff to Cameron Smith.
“I mean, obviously super bummed. Held the lead for a long time and felt like it was kind of mine to win,” Steele told reporters. “But I did everything that I could there. There is nothing that I’m upset about. Just didn’t quite get it figured out and do it at the right time.”
Steele was still two shots clear with two holes to play, thanks in part to a holed bunker shot on No. 11, but he missed the green on the par-3 17th and made bogey. Then he had to wait more than 15 minutes between shots on No. 18 after Ryan Palmer hit his approach out of bounds in the group ahead and had to return to a fairway bunker to re-hit.
Steele admitted that watching Palmer miss to the right got into his head during the lengthy delay, and he sailed his second shot well left into a grandstand as a result. He scrambled to save par, but Smith made a birdie to force a playoff. Steele then airmailed the green from 87 yards on the first extra hole en route to a decisive bogey.
The difference for Steele was on the greens. Steele regularly ranks outside the top 100 on Tour in season-long strokes gained: putting stats, but he led the Sony field in the category through 54 holes. He regressed in a big way Sunday, finishing dead last in final-round putting among the 66-man field, and didn’t hole a putt longer than 6 feet all day.
Steele's holed bunker shot on No. 11 restored his three-shot lead, but he didn't make another birdie the rest of the way and played his final eight holes in 3 over including the playoff.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) January 13, 2020
“Kind of everything that could go wrong went wrong today," Steele said. "I'm just a California kid who doesn't like rain, so I was just trying to grind and I worked as hard as I could. It just wasn't good enough."
While he came up short of victory, Steele’s finish is his first top-10 result in an individual event in nearly two years and, after missing the FedExCup playoffs last season, he’s well on his way to retaining his status for 2021.
“Definitely be lying if I said that off-season I wasn’t a little worried about keeping my card or whether I could compete out here anymore or whatever,” Steele said. “To kind of get rid of that this first week and know that I can play well, when you’re playing well you want to play. When you’re not, it’s easy to want to be somewhere else.”