By PETE IACOBELLI
The Associated Press
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Early on, Satoshi Kodaira was thinking only of playing well enough Sunday to make it to next week’s PGA Tour stop.
Those worries are over for the 28-year-old from Japan, who rallied from six shots behind to win the RBC Heritage in a playoff and gain an invitation to join the tour as a regular.
“This is a stage I’ve been dreaming about,” Kodaira said through an interpreter. “And having this opportunity to play full time is a dream come true. So, of course, I will accept full-time membership.”
Kodaira defeated Si Woo Kim on the third playoff hole, rolling in a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 17th hole, then punching his fist in celebration. It ended a drama-filled final round in which it appeared that Kim, Ian Poulter and Luke List had the lock on the title at different points.
But it was Kodaira’s relentless grind to the top that won the day. And with the game he showed at Harbour Town Golf Links, Kodaira appears like he’s got more big moments on tour ahead like countryman and five-time tour winner Hideki Matsuyama.
“I feel like I’m getting closer to that level,” said Kodaira, who is ranked 46th in the world and has played in 15 tour events. “I’d like to do my best in major championships and, hopefully, work hard at it.”
Bryson DeChambeau (66) and List (72) were tied for third. Third-round leader Poulter’s bid for a second tour title in three weeks ended with a 75 and a tie for seventh.
Starting times for the final round were moved up because of a forecast for bad weather.
Kodaira won $1.206 million. He’ll be exempt on the PGA Tour through the 2019-20 season.
The tournament appeared in steady hands with Kim, whose bulldog focus and shot-making held everyone off to win The Players Championship last May. But the 22-year-old from South Korea faltered over his final nine holes of regulation, with three bogeys to fall into the tie with Kodaira.
Kim had the chance to win in regulation but missed a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole. Kodaira said that was the most nervous he was during his wait of about an hour before the playoff.
Kodaira might have had a few butterflies on the final playoff hole as Kim had a 21-foot birdie try to extend things, but he came up short.
Kim thought the increased winds slowed down the greens, making putts more difficult on the final nine holes. “But I tried my best and the putts didn’t drop,” Kim said. “It is what it is.”
Poulter, who dramatically won the Houston Open two weeks ago for his first tour win in more than five years, had six bogeys Sunday after making just two in his first three rounds.
Kodaira was the hardest charged and few even realized until the final threesome of Kim, Poulter and List all came back to the pack. Kodaira became the sixth straight RBC Heritage champion who was three strokes down or more at the start of the final round.