DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Tadd Fujikawa stared at his ball after he narrowly missed a putt during yesterday's third round.
Successful encore for Tadd
When you leave them shouting for more, you better have an encore ready and waiting in the wings to send them home happy.
That's exactly what Tadd Fujikawa managed yesterday with a 4-under 66 that left him in a tie for eighth entering today's final round of the Sony Open in Hawaii with a 54-hole total of 7-under 203.
When he teed it up on the 13th hole, Fujikawa was tied for fourth and had several chances coming in to go even lower, but the golf ball didn't always cooperate on the greens.
His mother, Lori, lagged behind a bit as he headed up No. 16, preferring to let her son have his moment.
"This is what I usually do, just kind of hang back and watch," she said. "We're so excited as a family. We've always told him that his size doesn't matter. This is something he has dreamed about since he was young."
After what he did on Friday, becoming the second-youngest golfer in PGA Tour history to make a cut, he could have handed off the microphone and said, "Drive home safely."
Instead, he came out ripping and raring to go yesterday morning to give the home folks something to shout about with a performance that belies his age and stature.
Playing partner Nathan Green watched as the crowds began to swell as he and Fujikawa played the front nine in relative obscurity compared to how many would join in on the back side. Gallery estimates were about 2,000 midway through the early holes of the back nine, but by the time he arrived at Nos. 17 and 18, another 1,000 had joined in the fun.
Caddie Garret Hayashi said the crowd lifted Fujikawa's spirits after he bogeyed the second hole of the round. They just wouldn't let him fail and he responded with birdies at Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 9 to play the front side in 3-under 32. He got as low as 8 under with birdies at Nos. 11 and 12, before parring five of the six holes coming in.
He stumbled a bit with a three-putt bogey from 20 feet at No. 16 and had two good birdie chances coming in that he didn't convert as both putts slid by the hole. After tying for first with 16 greens in regulation during the second round, he came back to hit 14 of 18 yesterday. He needed only 28 putts yesterday, his best effort of the week.
"I think today I was a lot more comfortable than yesterday," Fujikawa said. "And that's probably because I have nothing to lose right now.
"I already made the cut, so I don't have to worry about anything like that. I just want to go out there, have fun, do the best that I can and hopefully, I can do good and shoot some low numbers."
He did that yesterday, despite the windy conditions that caused some problems for the golfers on the back nine. Many of the fairways on that side have crosswinds whipping across the narrow fairways, forcing golfers to shape their shots and control their emotions.
That's one thing that Green noticed of Fujikawa during their 4-hour walk. Last year, Green finally earned his tour card at age 30 and had a nice finish here, finishing fifth and earning a $200,000 paycheck. The Aussie knows what it's like to toil in the outback, before finally making it to the tour stage.
"Being able to control his shots, especially in this wind, is something you don't normally see in a guy so young," Green said. "He does a great job of managing his game.
"I had a pretty good idea there would be a large gallery following him, and there was. I always like playing in front of a big crowd. It's great for him. He's playing very well and staying within himself. Sometimes, when you get excited, you get ahead of yourself and he didn't do that today."
What he has done is brought a breath of fresh air to this tournament that was borderline flat late Friday afternoon until Fujikawa made his run.
Yesterday, many of the patrons left the grounds after Fujikawa finished his round. They were drained from the experience.
"Everything was just kind of flowing," Fujikawa explained of his success yesterday. "Having this many people out here watching and supporting you, it really hypes you up and really gets you going. So I think that really played a big part in all of my birdies today."
As for pressure, well, there really isn't any now. Fujikawa will finish his round today, take tomorrow off and go back to school on Tuesday, ready to resume his normal life. He said he hoped his teachers understood he had some catching up to do with his homework and added he's not ready to play for money just yet.
"This isn't my job," Fujikawa said. "I'm just out here having fun, just soaking up all of the moments. I'm just out there doing my best. And if it works out, then great."