Si Woo Kim won the Sony Open title

HONOLULU – The talent has never been in question.

But for Si Woo Kim, his attitude, and his results, have varied.

“High expectations,” Kim said of his occasional struggles after carding his second straight 64 to reach 18 under par and win the Sony Open in Hawaii by a shot over Hayden Buckley (68).

It was the fourth PGA TOUR victory for Kim, 27, who began three behind the leader Buckley but closed the gap with three straight birdies. Kim finished with two more birdies, including a 28-foot chip-in on 17 just seconds after Buckley had birdied 16, and a two-putt birdie on 18, where he chased his second shot onto the green with a 5-iron from a fairway bunker.

Chris Kirk (68) finished alone in third, three back.

Kim is not the same guy whose third and most recent victory before Sunday came at The American Express in 2021. For one thing, he got married last month. For another, he joined forces with a new caddie, Manny Villegas, brother of Camilo, at the Presidents Cup last fall.

Kim and Villegas talk a lot about attitude and expectations, because when you’ve won the Korean Junior Championship four years in a row, won again as a PGA TOUR rookie (2016 Wyndham Championship), and lapped the field at the 2017 PLAYERS Championship (at just 21) it can seem like your birthright to win every week.

And when you don’t? Well, look out.

“Always hard,” Kim said, “but I’m trying to get – I’ve got too much pressure and too much high expectation, so I think that makes me more nervous and pressure and stress.

“… With Manny, I talked to him like week before here, so I'm trying to be better attitude and trying to be more – like act better. When I hit (not) the best shot, try to be less upset. I think that helps for this week.”

Villegas knew Kim was good, but was surprised at just how good, and the partnership began well as Kim went 3-1-0 for the International Team, including a Singles win over Justin Thomas.

“This guy stripes it, man,” Villegas said. “I just try to keep him patient, get him to believe in himself, because he’s got a lot of talent. Everybody knows he’s got a lot of talent. He’s amazing. He really hits his numbers. The thing is that he hits it so good, it makes it seem like he’s putting bad. Because he gets so many chances, you can’t just make them all.”

Kim was No. 1 in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green at Waialae, which was on brand. That he was only a pedestrian 38th in Strokes Gained: Putting turned out not to matter. He held his own on the greens, and made the ones that mattered.

“You get that many 12- 15- 18-footers in one day,” Villegas said, “it makes you feel like, Man, I’ve missed six of them, but you’re not going to make them all. And he’s good from long range, too; every now and then he’ll throw a bomb in there.”

He’s also sneaky funny, say friends and colleagues. Kim was quick to make fun of himself after he made a TOUR-record 13 at the watery 11th hole at TPC Southwind in 2021.

There’s one other important thing about him, Villegas added.

“He’s very good under pressure,” the caddie said.

Adam Scott (67, T21) said the same thing about his Presidents Cup teammate.

“There's a lot to Si Woo as a golfer, especially on the inside,” Scott said as Kim battled on the back nine. “I think when he's in a position like this, the fire burns hot, and he’s going to be hard to beat if he’s in the lead I would say.”

Kim admitted he got ahead of himself after his three-birdie start, and what Villegas called his best shot of the day, his 220-yard tee shot at the par-3 fourth hole, to a back-right pin with the wind coming in off the right. The ball stopped 4 feet, 2 inches from the pin, but Kim missed the putt and bogeyed the sixth and eighth holes. He birdied seven and nine to negate the damage, then settled down on the back, going bogey free as pulled even with and then ahead of Buckley.

It can be hard to turn him away once Kim gets a whiff of winning. Still, his confidence remains a work in progress.

“Yeah, my dad keep talk to me: ‘You’re not the top player, so don't try to act like top player,’” he said, eliciting laughter and not a little bewilderment. “Yeah. If I play Rory, J.T., all the good players, sometimes I play with them, (I’m) like what I’m doing here, they’re so good, driving like 360, and I’m like 60 yards behind.

“Yeah, I’m still a lot of going.”

He may think he still has a long way to go, and maybe he really does, but Kim reminded again at the Sony that when he’s on his game, he’s as good as anyone, and he’s got another trophy to prove it.