Wagner fulfills great expectations at Sony Open

January 16, 2012 - 4:57 AM
Sony Open Golf

Johnson Wagner poses with the trophy after winning the Sony Open golf tournament, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Honolulu. Wagner played bogey-free over the last 12 holes and closed with a 3-under 67. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

HONOLULU (AP) — The mustache is here to stay. Johnson Wagner hopes the same can be said of his golf game.

Wagner usually doesn't start a new PGA Tour with great expectations, only this year was different. For starters, he was expecting to catch plenty of grief for the mustache he grew on a whim over Thanksgiving, and he was right.

"I probably got 'Magnum P.I.' in Maui a hundred times," Wagner said. "And I had never really watched the show. So I Googled images of Tom Selleck and I took it as a compliment. Tom Selleck is a stud."

Wagner also was expecting to win early in the year, based on how hard he worked in the offseason and his unusual confidence level.

Right again.

Trailing by two shots going into the final round, Wagner played bogey-free over the final 12 holes and closed with a 3-under 67 on Sunday to win the Sony Open for only his third PGA Tour title.

The perks were immediate.

Wagner crossed off one of his goals by earning an invitation to the Masters, and this time he can enjoy it. The only other time he played Augusta National was in 2008, and he got in by winning the week before at the Houston Open.

He also gets to book a return to Hawaii next year for a two-week working vacation, starting with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. His other goals of getting into the top 50, getting into more majors, will take more work.

But what a start.

"I've worked very hard this offseason, and it's just really nice to see it pay off so early," Wagner said.

Six players had at least a share of the lead in the final round, yet the final few holes lacked much drama. Wagner took the lead for good with a birdie from the greenside bunker on the short par-4 10th. He didn't make any mistakes, and no one else made enough birdies in what turned out to be a winning recipe.

Harrison Frazar took the outright lead with a birdie on No. 10, but had to settle for pars the rest of the way for a 67. Charles Howell III was paired with Wagner and stayed with him until a three-putt par on the par-5 ninth. He birdied the last hole for a 69. Sean O'Hair narrowly missed a 30-foot eagle putt on the last hole and shot 67, while Carl Pettersson overcame a double bogey on his second hole with four birdies on the last six holes for a 67.

They all tied for second.

"My first top-10 as an American," said Pettersson, the Swede who became a U.S. citizen during the offseason.

Wagner got some help.

He started the final round two shots behind Jeff Maggert and Matt Every, both of whom fell apart early. Maggert made two big par putts to start his round, but he put too much pressure on himself around the greens and it finally caught up with the 47-year-old when he started missing short putts. He shot 74.

Every ended a trying week, which began with him bumbling his way through two interviews over his PGA Tour suspension stemming from his arrest on a misdemeanor marijuana charge during his rookie season.

By Saturday evening, with a share of the lead, he said that "I'm just ready to get it over with."

His chances of winning were over quickly. He made bogeys on the opening four holes by failing to get up-and-down from a bunker on No. 1, driving into the water on No. 2 and three-putting on No. 4. But even after a three-putt from 4 feet on No. 6 for double bogey, he was still in the hunt, along with so many others.

Wagner looked up at the leaderboard next to the ninth green and saw that the leaders coming back to the field, and that raised his hopes immediately. He made birdie from the bunker on the ninth, made birdie from the bunker on the next hole and then effectively put the tournament away with a 15-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 15, and a tee shot into the wind on the 16th that avoided trouble.

"He played fantastic, right down the stretch," Howell said, who played alongside Wagner. "He hit a really good drive up 16, which he needed to hit. And then his shot on 17 to the middle of the green to make 3 there. That was the last place I think he could have lost it. He played 18 with 5 to win. That must be a pretty good feeling, I don't know. I've heard it is."

It was the second time Howell has been runner-up in the Sony Open, and the 13th time in his career. Frazar also was a runner-up for the second time at Waialae, having lost in a playoff to Ernie Els in 2004.

Now, Wagner is hopeful of a big year.

Somewhere in the offseason, when he was working out three times a week, flying to Florida to meet with his swing coach, and jotting down notes about his attitude and his goals, he decided not to settle for mediocrity.

He was confident enough to tell family and friends to expect a win early in the season. And it was a message he shared with Johnny Harris, who runs Quail Hollow where Wagner often plays.

Before leaving for Kapalua, Wagner said he told him, "If I get into the Masters, are you going to sponsor my brother and I in a foursome down there for a couple of days?"

Those who qualify for the Masters can play the course with members before the tournament.

"He was like, 'You go do it and I've got you, podner,'" Wagner said. "So I'll be going down to Augusta a few times."

And that mustache is going with him.

"Kind of made a deal with myself in December that if I was to get into the Masters, then I was going to keep the mustache for at least this year," he said. "Everybody said, 'Oh, is it a November mustache? Well, it's December, time to shave it.' I said, Look, this is not a one-month mustache. This is potentially a 10-year mustache.'

"So I think it's going to be around for a while."