Tani's gem of shot wins Pearl
• Photo gallery: Pearl Open Sunday
Advertiser Staff Writer
'AIEA With a "miraculous" approach shot and a teen-aided eagle putt, Akinori Tani overcame Nick Mason on the next-to-last hole and captured the Hawai'i Pearl Open championship yesterday.
Mason, 27, graduated from Leilehua High School and University of Hawai'i-Hilo before heading to Arizona to pursue his golf dreams. He trailed by one going into the final day at Pearl Country Club.
At the turn, he led by two over South Koreans Hyung Sung Kim and Dong Sub Maeng, and three over a foursome that included Tani, a 35-year-old Japanese pro.
While others faded in front and back, Mason's playing partner began to zero in with his short game and a long putter making its tournament debut. Tani, with Moanalua freshman Eimi Koga, on his bag "He's a friend of a friend of my dad's," she said birdied Nos. 10, 12 and 15.
When Mason matched his kick-in birdie at 15, draining a 15-footer moments earlier, Tani's deficit remained two with three to go.
That was one of the few putts Mason managed to squeeze in. A day earlier, his tee shot on the par-3 16th lipped out. Even yesterday, in the course of shooting 33 on the front nine, he "severely" lipped out once for birdie and twice for eagle.
When he three-putted the 16th, only a shot separated the two going into Pearl's 519-yard par-5 that has decided this tournament so many times the last 32 years. Few times were as spectacular as yesterday.
Saturday, Mason lamented the fact he was 1-over on such a birdie-able hole after two rounds. When he parred it yet again yesterday, he could only shake his head in frustration, particularly after Tani practically tore the title from him there.
"I didn't totally feel like I lost the golf tournament. He did a miraculous job," Mason said. "You can't win a golf tournament parring 17. I played it 1-over for the week. It killed me."
In contrast, the 17th was magical for Tani, whose best finish on the JGTO tour last year was 24th.
He drove into the trees on the left. While he pondered going up and over or down and under from 200 yards out, the gallery scattered to give him space to lay up, or avoid the likelihood of a ricochet off a tree. Tani grabbed his 9-iron from an awed Koga and launched his yellow golf ball, which matched his yellow pants, over the trees and into the fairway. It took a few huge hops downwind and headed straight at the flag, downgrain.
"His shot on 17 was one of the best golf shots I've ever seen," Mason said. "It knuckled and ran all the way up there. He still had a very difficult putt and he made the putt. It was incredible. The guy is a great, confident player."
The ball stopped 7 feet right of the hole. Tani, peering out of trees, thought it was short of the green.
"When I was about 100 yards from the green, I noticed there was a yellow ball on the green," Tani said through an interpreter. "I thought, I'm the only one using a yellow ball."
He looked over the eagle putt and was going to hit it "one cup right." Koga suggested "one (golf club) grip right." That's where he put the ball and the hole swallowed it, turning his one-shot deficit into a one-shot lead.
After, he called Koga a very successful golfer who proudly wore her Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association shirt his "angel" and gave her his range finder as a wage.
She earned it.
"She's played here a lot. She's a pretty good golfer," said Tani, who hadn't played Pearl in a decade. "She knows the course and can read the grain very well. She helped read all the putts."
When he clinched it with a routine par on the final hole, Tani had the win and an $11,610 check to use on his honeymoon. He married Etsuko Saturday, deciding on the time and place two days earlier, after he knew his tee times.
Tani's initial idea was to get married Valentine's Day, but he "had a hunch" he might win and his afternoon would be lost.
He was right. His 5-under-par 67 gave him a three-day total of 12-under 204, a shot better than Mason (69) and two ahead of Kim (71).
Mason will play at the 13th annual Hilo Invitational this weekend, passing up a PGA Tour Monday qualifier to defend his title. The weight of the Hawai'i golf world will not be on his shoulders at Hilo Muni as it was yesterday.
"Even though I'm not born and raised here, I feel honored to be known as a Hawaiian kid," Mason said. "It's more honor than I could ever imagine. I wanted to do it for the state, absolutely."
Ryutaro Kato, a 16-year-old from Okayama, Japan, earned low amateur honors at 72212. He finished 13th overall.
Han Lee shot the day's low round (65) and shared fourth with Sung Yeol Kwon. The Koreans have been here since December doing offseason training.
Second-round co-leader John Ellis, a San Jose pro, has finished fourth, fifth and sixth the last three years. Defending champion Jesse Mueller got a share of seventh.