PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | Russell Henley found an effective cure for his closing woes: build a big-enough lead and shoot a tournament record-tying 23-under score at the World Wide Technology Championship at Mayakoba.
Since closing out victory in his first PGA Tour start at the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii, Henley was 0-for-5 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead – four of those misses since October 2020, including the 2021 U.S. Open. He conceded in January that he struggles to sleep on leads: “I'm already not the best sleeper.”
Even entering Sunday’s final round with a six-shot lead wasn’t enough to make Henley feel too comfortable. Henley started 2022 seemingly having his second Sony Open victory in hand before losing a five-shot lead on the back nine to a charging Hideki Matsuyama and then succumbing to Matsuyama’s 3-wood dagger to 3 feet for eagle on the first playoff hole.
“I wouldn't say I'm clear because you can make a lot of birdies out here, but I don't think I've ever had a lead like this,” Henley said Saturday in Mexico after rounds of 63-63-65 had him 22 under and six ahead of 2017 Mayakoba winner Patton Kizzire and Will Gordon. “It's definitely tough to finish golf tournaments, so I'm just really trying not to think about the score and just think about each shot.”
On an El Camaleón Course at Mayakoba that was in perfect shape before heavy rain on the eve of the tournament left it soft and gettable, Henley started fast and never eased up. He went 58 holes without recording a bogey until his first on the par-5 fifth hole Sunday that reduced his lead to three on early clubhouse leader Scottie Scheffler and offered a glimmer of hope to chasers still on the course. But Henley bounced back with consecutive birdies on 6, 7 and 8 to recalibrate his winning trajectory and eventually matched Viktor Hovland’s tournament-record 23-under total last year.
“I just tried to learn from my past and my screwups,” Henley said. “All those events I didn’t close on, you know, they hurt. And you don’t know if you’ll ever get to win another one. It’s so hard out here. And to come down 18 with a four-shot lead, it was just really cool.
“I felt very nervous this weekend. I slept on the lead both nights, and never slept on a six-shot lead. You just don’t feel the same as when you’re practicing at home. You can’t create that environment that you get out here when you’re leading a PGA Tour event. I guess all the times I didn’t get it done, I learned from it and here we are.”
Henley won for the fourth time on the PGA Tour, but for the first time in five years, since the 2017 Shell Houston Open. His second career win came in a playoff over Rory McIlroy at the 2014 Honda Classic.
Brian Harman, a former Georgia teammate of Henley’s, finished solo second, four behind at 19-under.
“Russell's a fantastic golfer; he's been that way for a long time,” Harman said. “He's a dear friend. I'm really happy for him. Jealous of his putter. He putts it so great, and he's really rounded his ball-striking into form. … Yeah, he buzz-sawed everybody.”
Scheffler, trying to reclaim the No. 1 world ranking that he’d ceded to McIlroy two weeks ago, made a run with a 9-under 62 on Sunday. He needed at least a solo second to overtake McIlroy, but he came up just short as his 18-under total ended up in a five-way tie for third that included Séamus Power – last week’s winner in Bermuda – Gordon, Joel Dahmen and Troy Merritt.
“I was just trying to show up and have a good round of golf,” Scheffler said. “Rankings are great. It was definitely fun being No. 1 in the world. It's definitely something I hope to get back to, but it's not something that's going to occupy a lot of my thoughts.”
Hovland’s bid to become the first player in 11 years to win a PGA Tour event three consecutive years fell short as the 2020 and ’21 Mayakoba champ settled for T10.