Russell Henley heads, Hideki Matsuyama chases: Final round preview of the Sony Open

Henley is hunting down a second win at Waialae Country Club, Matsuyama looking to kick off 2022 as he ended 2021.

Russell Henley knows a thing or two about the treacherous business of winning a golf tournament.

Back in 2011, he won on the second tier Nationwide Tour (as it then was) while still an amateur, the following year he won twice on the same circuit to earn graduation to the PGA Tour, he claimed a victory in the Sony Open in his very first start of that rookie year, and added a second triumph 14 months later.

"A doddle, this winning lark," he might have been forgiven for thinking.

If he did, he's learned to think again.

He added a third success on the PGA Tour in 2017, but in more recent times he has found himself banging his head against a door that resolutely refuses to open.

After carding rounds of 62-63-67 back at the Sony Open, scene of his breakthrough exactly nine years ago, the sore-headed Henley leads Hideki Matsuyama by two strokes - and the rest of the field by four - heading into the final round.

The door is creaking once more, but Henley isn't fooled. He's a wiser, more scarred, version of the youngster to whom all entrances seemed to open of their own accord.

Back in 2013 he held a solo lead at halfway and shared it with 18 holes to play. Both times he talked of "excitement", of "living the dream" and of "sleeping well".

In the last 15 months he's three times led after 54 holes and, on two of those occasions, he led by three. He didn't convert any of them. He was also second through 36 holes at Waialae last year and drifted outside the top 10.

Experience has turned the giddy words into wary ones.

"I've had some tough finishes, tough to swallow," he said after a third round that swapped five birdies and two bogeys.

"It's a tough game. I've slept on a few leads the last couple years and it's hard. I struggle to sleep. I'm already not the best sleeper.

"You look at what the Hideki did today, he shot 7-under. Guys are so good out here. You have to play at such a high level for so long to be in contention.

"Hopefully I can keep doing that, play well tomorrow, and give myself a chance on the back nine."

Matsuyama is chasing a second win in three starts and he is two blows clear of Adam Svensson, Seamus Power, Matt Kuchar and Haotong Li who share third on 14-under.

Let's take a closer look at the numbers and the leading contenders.

Waialae winner trends

Since the course became a par-70 in 1999 all 26 winners were tied sixth or better heading into the final round. A staggering 20 of the 26 was tied second or better (22 were tied third or better).

The biggest shot deficit overhauled in the final round is four (achieved twice). But 22 of the 26 champions were within two shots after 54 holes.

Each of the last five winners ranked top six for Putting Average and five of the last six winners ranked top seven for Strokes Gained Approach. Eight of the last 10 winners had played the week before at the Tournament of Champions.

Russell Henley: leading on 18-under

He's bang on track to maintain the Putting trend, currently topping that category. He ranks 12th for SG Approach, but didn't play last week at Plantation. He's 3-for-8 at converting a 54 hole lead throughout his career, but he was 3-for-4 after winning here in 2013.

Will he stay in his zone or watch the leaderboard, he was asked.

"It depends on how I'm feeling, how things are going," he replied. "If I have a really poor front nine I might look. If I'm playing really well I might just keep doing what I'm doing. And then definitely taking a look maybe middle of the back nine.

"But that's just so far away. I mean, I don't really have a specific game plan for this. It doesn't happen that much. Usually, we're all just grinding to make the cut and sneak in a top 25.

"I'm just really trying to stay patient, stay focused on one shot at a time."

Hideki Matsuyama: solo second on 16-under

The Japanese star has also been superb on the greens this week and ranks second for Putting Average. However, despite getting to play last week at Plantation, he's been poor hitting into the greens, ranking 46th for SG Approach.

He's making a ninth start at Waialae and this is easily his best performance. He missed the cut in his first four starts and, although he is 4-for-4 since, with three top 30s, he's on track for a first top 10 finish (he'd only ended one round in 25 inside the top 10 ahead of this week).

He's 3-for-9 at winning from second place with 18 holes to play. A little like Henley, the good news came early in his career: he's not successfully pounced from this position in his last five attempts.

The reason for his poor efforts in this event in the past? Terrible efforts on the greens. He hasn't ranked top 50 for SG Putting in his four completed weeks and never better than 1.71 for Putting Average. This week he is second for SG Putting and 1.63 for Putting Average.

Any explanation, he was asked. "That's a good question," he said. "But I don't have an answer for it."

The chasers in a share of third on 14-under

History says those in a tie for third have a sniff, but it's a small one. Moreover, Henley and Matsuyama have separated themselves where it has historically mattered: on the greens. Because while they rank first and second for Putting Average, none of this quartet rank better than 14th.

Svensson is third for SG Approach and Li ninth in the same category, Power played last week at Plantation, Kuchar is a past champion.

Irishman Power sounded most chipper after his third lap. "Playing last week is a big help," he said. "And my game is in a good spot. It's the best it's been coming here. Those two factors have led to better scores.

"The game is in good shape. I know what I'm doing. I don't want to overdo it this afternoon."

He's landed 10 top 20s in his last 15 starts on the PGA Tour, including a win at the Barbasol Championship. He was T12th, T11th and fourth at Port Royal, El Camaleon and Sea Island, all excellent pointers ahead of this week.

A good performance is no surprise and if the top two falter he's in the sort of form to pounce.

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