In his 10th season, in his 233rd tournament, Jason Kokrak can finally call himself a PGA Tour winner.
Kokrak earned every bit of it Sunday in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in North Las Vegas. He matched the best round of the tournament with an 8-under-par 64 to overcome a three-shot deficit at the start and win a duel on the back nine with Xander Schauffele.
"Couldn’t be happier,'' said Kokrak.
The timing couldn’t be better. The CJ Cup moved from South Korea this year to Shadow Creek because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kokrak is an ambassador for MGM Resorts, which owns the prestigious Tom Fazio design.
“It feels like home,” Kokrak said. “I’ve played this golf course enough that I should know it by now.”
Kokrak began to pull away with four straight birdies on the front nine, and birdie putts from 20 feet and 18 feet to start the back nine stretched his lead to two shots.
Schauffele answered with three straight birdies, the last one a 45-footer by using his putter from the thick collar of the 13th green to catch him. Then, it was a matter of who blinked first.
That turned out to be Schauffele on the par-5 16th, when he only managed to advance his shot from deep rough left of the fairway some 85 yards into more rough. Swinging with all his might, his third shot peeled off to the right into more rough well below the green, and he made his only bogey in his round of 66.
Kokrak also was in the left rough, hacked out to the right rough and put his third shot in the bunker. But he splashed it out to just inside 4 feet and made par for a one-shot lead, and Schauffele couldn’t catch up.
Kokrak, a 35-year-old from Ohio, all but clinched it when he drilled his drive into the fairway on the par-5 18th, leaving only a short iron to 25 feet. He two-putted for his final birdie of a round he won’t soon forget.
Russell Henley, who began the final round with a three-shot lead, never got anything going early and fell behind when he bogeyed the par-5 seventh and Kokrak was on his early run of birdies.
He closed with a 70 and tied for third with Tyrrell Hatton, who was coming off a victory last week in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Hatton closed with a 65.
Kokrak played bogey-free on a course where trouble was never too far away. Justin Thomas, within five shots of the lead, has two straight bogeys on the front nine and three more in a four-hole stretch on the back for a 74. Rory McIlroy was at least headed for a good finish until he had a pair of bogeys and two double bogeys over the last five holes for a 74.
Making it even tougher on Kokrak and Schauffele was Jason Day, the third in their group, withdrew with a neck injury on the second hole. That meant a twosome amidst a course filled with threesomes, and a lot of waiting. They still played at the highest level, with Kokrak delivering all the key putts.
Kokrak earned a spot in the Masters next month from reaching the Tour Championship a year ago in August. Now he can plan on two trips to Augusta National, qualifying for the 2021 tournament by winning.
Champions — Phil Mickelson likes to play aggressively and found the PGA Tour Champions' stop at The Country Club of Virginia in Richmond the perfect place to begin his preparations for the Masters.
Bombing drives the way he will have to do against the younger set on the PGA Tour, Mickelson shot a 7-under 65 and became the third player — and second this year — to win his first two starts on the tour for players 50 and older. He slammed the door on Mike Weir with a back-nine surge in the Dominion Energy Charity Classic.
“It’s fun for me to come out here and play well and this is a good start for me as I try to build a little bit of momentum heading to Augusta in about a month,” Mickelson said.
He finished at 17-under 199, one off the event record set by Miguel Angel Jimenez last year.
“I put a new driver into play this week, trying to get a little more pop, a little more carry. It was a little wayward at times, but it was also effective in allowing me to play this course the way I wanted to, which was aggressively,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson beat fellow lefthander and second-round leader Weir by three strokes. The fellow rookie closed with a 71 and said he would have contended had he putted better.
“I haven’t been in this position in a while, but I felt very confident,” the Canadian said. “I hit one poor tee shot on No. 7. Outside of that, I played really well and just didn’t get anything really out of it.”
The winner in late August at Ozarks National in Missouri in his first start on the tour, Mickelson joined Bruce Fleischer and Jim Furyk as the only players to win in their first two senior events. Fleischer accomplished the feat in 1999 and Furyk did it this year with victories at The Ally Challenge and Pure Insurance Championship.
Mickelson said earlier in the week he came to Virginia to work on accurate driving and competitive fitness, and was hoping to still be in contention for the closing holes.
“I felt like the last six holes I had an opportunity with the two short par 4s and two par 5s to make something happen,” he said, noting the advantage of his length. “... I was able to have two putt birdies on three of those holes and that was very helpful.”
He got the lead when Weir three-putted the par-3 14th green, doubled his edge with a birdie on the next hole, then highlighted his distance advantage over the 2003 Masters champion by driving the green on the 274-yard, par-4 15th. He two-putted from 30 feet, then reached the par-5 16th in two and made birdie, canceling out Weir’s birdie.
Mickelson’s chance to work on his competitive side came right away. He erased a three-shot deficit with birdies on three of the first six holes while Weir made a string of pars, but it was on the back nine that he was really tested, and delighted with his response.
After going a shot behind on the 12th hole, he pulled even at No. 13 and kept pushing.
Mickelson, who hasn’t won on the PGA Tour since early 2019 at Pebble Beach, plans to return to the PGA Tour next week for the Zozo Championship in California. After a week off, he’ll play in the Houston Open as his final preparation for the Masters on Nov. 12-15.
Weir three-putted the par-5 18th, but still hung on to beat Paul Goydos (65) by a shot. Bernhard Langer (67) and Brandt Jobe (68) shared fifth, five behind Mickelson.
It was Weir’s third top-10 finish in eight starts on the tour.
“I was low righthander this week,” Goydos quipped.
Robert Karlsson, another rookie on the tour, closed with a 64 including an albatross 2 on the final hole. The ball bounced twice, then found the bottom of the cup.
European — Spanish golfer Adrian Otaegui captured his first stroke-play title on the European Tour after shooting 9-under 63 in the final round of the Scottish Championship to win by four shots.
A hot streak of eight birdies in 11 holes from No. 5 saw Otaegui overhaul third-round leader Matt Wallace, who began the day with a three-stroke advantage but could only finish with a 71.
Otaegui’s previous two wins on the European Tour were match-play events — and one of them was in Scotland, too, at the Paul Lawrie Match Play in 2017. His other was at the Belgian Knockout the following year.
Otaegui started the week shooting 62 in the first round and almost matched that on Sunday thanks to a remarkable display of putting, which included a long putt from off the green at No. 13 for one of his 10 birdies overall. That capped a run of three birdies, which he also had at Nos. 7-9 as he accelerated away from his rivals around the turn at Fairmont St. Andrews.
Otaegui was 23 under overall for the week.
Wallace shot 65-67-66 in his first three rounds but couldn’t replicate those performances on Sunday as he sought his fifth European Tour title, and first since September 2018.
Wallace bogeyed No. 1 as Otaegui made birdie, and had lost his overnight lead by the time he dropped another shot at No. 8.