Si Woo Kim holds off a scorching-hot Patrick Cantlay and ends an almost four-year winless drought to claim The American Express

January 24, 2021

Sean M. Haffey

If you found space in your field of vision for The American Express on Sunday—and it’s OK if you didn’t, with NFL conference championship games and the LPGA’s Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions serving as worthy alternatives—you were treated to a rather entertaining finish at PGA West’s Stadium Course. In the end, an all-world round from Patrick Cantlay came up just short, and Si Woo Kim picked up his first victory in nearly four years. Here are five takeaways from a birdie-filled Sunday in the desert.

Si Woo Kim gets back in the winner's circle

Maybe it wasn’t a fluke after all. Si Woo Kim’s victory at the 2017 Players has long been considered something of a one-hit wonder—the South Korean was young and he caught fire for one week, and he hasn’t done much of anything since.

That was the narrative, at least. But when you watch Kim swing a club, you always sensed there was more brilliant golf in his future. It came this week in the desert, though it was anything but easy. Trailing by one deep into the back-nine after Patrick Cantlay would not stop making birdies, the 25-year-old summoned birdies on 16 and 17—the latter coming from 18 feet on the island-ish green, punctuated by a forceful fist pump—to leapfrog his way into winning position.

Still, Kim needed a par on the dangerous 18th, where water looms left the entire way down the home hole. He found the fairway then hit a perfect-for-the-circumstances approach, an 8-iron from 170 that pitched just right of the green and kicked into the center. It was a fitting end to a steely performance; Kim played steadily all afternoon and was not afraid to get aggressive when he needed to. Like on the par-5 11th, when he went with driver off the deck en route to a birdie. This was thoroughly deserved.


Harry How

Cantlay produces one of the best rounds you’ll ever see

Patrick Cantlay is a golfing cyborg. We suspected this already, but Sunday was the type of indisputable evidence that prompts juries to start packing their bags early. After making the cut on the number on Friday, Cantlay shot a 65 on Saturday to pull within four shots of the lead. Then come Sunday, he made 11 birdies en route to a course-record 61 and forced Kim to birdie 16 and 17 for a one-shot victory. Cantlay’s course record was one of the best rounds of golf you’ll ever see, and there’s a legitimate possibility he did not smile once the entire day.

Yep, when Cantlay gets that robotic stare in his eyes, you know he’s going stupid low. Just three months ago and 180 miles away, the former UCLA All-American shot seven-under 65 to leapfrog Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm and win the Zozo Championship. Seeking a second victory in his home state of California, the Long Beach native simply ran out of holes on Sunday—but he’ll take heaps of positives after shooting 18 under on the weekend. And he has a few more tournaments in California coming up. All is good in the Cantlay household.

Finau comes up short, again

Tony Finau is going to win another PGA Tour event. It’s not a statistical certainty, of course, but it’s pretty damn close. And yet, afternoons like this one make you wonder if there’s some supernatural powers conspiring against him.

It’s not even that he got any particularly bad breaks on Sunday, when his four-under 68 saw him squander yet another chance to get that long-awaited second victory. But how else do you explain a player of such immense talent, who gives himself opportunity after opportunity, consistently falling short?

It looked like Sunday might be the day after he birdied the first and second holes to get his nose ahead by two. But the round stalled from then on, and his chances died in spectacular fashion on the par-5 11th. After a 333-yard drive, Finau went for the green with a driving iron, trying to sling in a low draw. It turned too much and found the water that guards the left side of the green, but after a drop and a chip to three feet, it looked like crisis averted. He then pulled his par effort, made bogey to fall three back, and looked completely dejected from then on.

Nice to see you, Francesco

Francesco Molinari finished tied for eighth this week. Devoid of context, that’s not exactly front-page news. But when you consider just how much he’s struggled since losing to Tiger Woods at the 2019 Masters, this week marked serious progress.

The 2018 Open Championship winner at Carnoustie has tumbled all the way outside the top 100 in the world as he’s struggled with injuries, a lack of form and confidence. He recently moved his family from Europe to Southern California seeking a fresh start, and the early returns are positive—he shot four straight rounds under par and picked up his first top-10 since, you guessed it, the 2019 Masters.


Sean M. Haffey

Tough day for Mr. Homa

Everyone was pulling for Golf Twitter’s darling, who has been refreshingly candid about really diving into the mental side of this torturous game. He played three terrific rounds at PGA West to enter Sunday tied for the lead, but he made just one birdie in shooting a closing 76 and finishing T-21. That’s a brutal, expense final day. At some point on the back nine, Golf Channel commentator Trevor Immelman suggested Homa gets a little quiet on the golf course, which is different from his outgoing personality off it. An interesting thought, for sure, but sometimes you play poorly because you just don’t have your stuff. Smart money says this was one of those days.