Isao Aoki holed out a 128-yard shot from the rough for an eagle on the 18th hole today, winning the $325,000 Hawaiian Open golf tournament by one stroke and becoming the first player from Japan to win a PGA Tour event.
Aoki needed a birdie to force a playoff after Jack Renner, playing in the threesome ahead of him, birdied the 18th to finish at 66--269, 19 under par.
But Aoki, 40, winner of the 1978 World Match Play tournament in England and Japan's most consistent player on the tour, ended the tournament with a shot that bounced once, then went into the cup for 67--268.
"I was just hoping it would get close," he said through an interpreter. "Nothing like this has happened to me before. This is the greatest thrill of my career.
"I know," said Aoki, for many years Japan's finest player and for the last two seasons a regular on the American tour, "the Japanese people have expected me to win in the United States. It has been their dream, too, that Aoki wins. I am so happy I could make that dream come true."
The victory was worth $58,500.
Said Renner: "From where he was, it would have been a difficult birdie. He'd duck-hooked his second shot into the gallery. It hit somebody and came back on the fairway."
Renner, the last of numerous challengers on this sunny, muggy day, seemed to have clinched, at worst, a playoff spot with his birdie. Then came Aoki's shot. He raised his arms in triumph as a huge gallery of Japanese tourists began shouting, screaming, leaping up and down.
"There's nothing I can do about it," Renner said. "Hey, look, I shot 19 under. I played well."
Renner had hit a fairway wood to within 18 feet of the flag on the par 5. His eagle putt lipped out and he settled for a birdie and a one-shot lead.
"That opened the door for him," Renner said. "I expected a playoff. He's one of the best short-game players in the world."
Aoki, meanwhile, was having his difficulties on the 18th. He drove into the rough and put his second shot into the gallery on the left, well short of the green. But his third shot was straight and true.
Renner, who started the round tied for fifth, two strokes behind coleaders Aoki, Ed Fiori and Vance Heafner, had rallied strongly on the back nine. He picked up six strokes on the day, four on the last seven holes.
Ben Crenshaw, who won the Hawaiian Open in 1976 and was leading at one stage of the final nine today, shot 66 to finish at 271. Hale Irwin, who set the tournament record two years ago at 23 under par, started the last round tied for 14th but gained seven strokes to finish at 272 and share fourth place with Andy Bean, Fiori and Peter Jacobsen.
Aoki first gained national attention in the U.S. when he battled Jack Nicklaus head-to-head for four days in the 1980 U.S. Open, finishing second. In the last two years he has finished no higher than third and last season was 122nd on the money-winning list with $30,657.