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Hudson Swafford uses eagle to break tie and claim American Express

Hudson Swafford cradles with the trophy after winning The American Express at the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.Steph Chambers/Getty

Hudson Swafford won The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., for the second time in five years Sunday, breaking a late tie with an eagle in a closing-round 8-under-par 64.

Swafford beat Tom Hoge by two strokes on PGA West’s Stadium Course after beginning the day three strokes behind rookies Lee Hodges and Paul Barjon.

Tied for the lead with fellow former Georgia player Brian Harman and Francesco Molinari at 20 under, Swafford pulled ahead with the eagle on the par-5 16th. From 198 yards, he hit to 8 feet on the iconic hole with large, deep bunkers lining the left side.

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Swafford then ran in a 20-foot birdie putt on 17, a par-3 hole called Alcatraz with an island green ringed by jagged rocks. He saved par on the par-4 18th with an 8-footer to wrap up a spot in the Masters.

The 34-year-old finished at 23-under 265 in the three-course event for his third PGA Tour title. He also won in the desert in 2017 and took the 2020 Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Hoge shot a 68. The 32-year-old from Fargo, N.D., missed a chance to win his first title in his 201st career start.

Hodges, the 26-year-old from Alabama making his 14th PGA Tour start, shot a 70 to tie for third at 20 under with Harman (64) and Lanto Griffin (67).

Molinari, the Italian star who won the 2018 British Open, bogeyed the 18th for a 68. He tied for sixth with Will Zalatoris (67) and Denny McCarthy (67).

Fourth-ranked Patrick Cantaly, the second-round leader at 14 under, followed at 18 under after a 68. The FedEx Cup champion was trying to win for the third time in his last four starts.

LPGA — Danielle Kang readily admits she, and her golf game, remain a constant work in progress. She spent much of the offseason finding a way to be “comfortable being uncomfortable.” It seems to be working.

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On a difficult championship test at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club, Kang ran off five birdies in a seven-hole stretch in the middle of her round, posted the low score at 4-under-par 68 and sprinted away to a three-shot victory at the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.

“My mental game was really good,” said Kang, who was winless in 2021 after having won in each of her previous four LPGA seasons. “I had a really good attitude all day today and yesterday. I know I left some putts out there, but I never let it get to me, and I kept having to give myself birdie chances as much as possible.”

Kang finished at 16-under 272, three shots clear of Canada’s Brooke Henderson (70).

Kang was the lone player to break 70 on both weekend days (69-68), and the only player to shoot in the 60s all four rounds. The 29-year-old American now has six LPGA titles.

In her only previous visit to Lake Nona, Kang missed the cut at the Gainbridge LPGA last year. But when asked about it during this tournament, Kang said she had no recollection.

On a blustery, cool Florida day that made birdies scarce and scoring difficult, Kang poured in more than her share, making six birdies. She took control of the tournament early on the back nine with three consecutive birdies starting at the par-3 13th.

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A highlight of the round was a hard-earned bogey at the 393-yard 16th, where Kang pulled her approach nearly into a penalty area and had to play away from the hole on a difficult bunker shot. She then two-putted from about 90 feet, converting a bogey putt from 10 feet.

“A massive bogey,” said Kang’s caddie of five years, Englishman Olly Brett.

Gaby Lopez, one of three players to hold the lead Sunday, experienced an up-and-down day, cooling after a hot front nine to finish third, four shots behind Kang. She played her way into the lead with three consecutive birdies starting at the fifth hole, but couldn’t keep up the pace and ended up with a 72.

Playing alongside Nelly Korda and Annika Sorenstam — one a current No. 1, one a former, and 72-time LPGA champion — Lopez found the experience to be valuable and educational.

“Starting Sunday with the World No. 1 and Annika? It’s exactly where I want to be,” she said.

Korda, who took a one-shot lead into Sunday, shot 75 and slid to a tie for fourth. Korda did not make her first birdie of the round until the 15th hole. It certainly wasn’t a continuation of her first 54 holes, when Korda made 16 birdies and an eagle.

“Overall, you know, I didn’t play very good,” Korda said, “but I’m going to take some positives away from this week, and hopefully I can kind of take it into the next two.”

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She plans to play the LPGA’s first three events in Florida, then take six weeks off, creating her own offseason after a long and highly successful 2021 campaign.

Given how Korda had been a solid closer all last season, her play Sunday was somewhat stunning. She had entered the final round coming off seven consecutive rounds in the 60s at Lake Nona, and 11 consecutive rounds in the 60s overall dating to last season.

She didn’t have to look far to find the LPGA record-holder for consecutive rounds in the 60s: Sorenstam, who once put together 14 in a row, was in her group, vying against former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe for the title in the celebrity division.

Lowe and Sorenstam would go to extra holes to decide a celebrity winner, with Lowe shocking the World Golf Hall of Famer when he rolled in a 25-footer for birdie on the first extra hole, the par-4 18th. Sorenstam had a putt just inside Lowe’s but when the ball failed to drop, victory was his.

“I basically beat her on one hole,” Lowe said. He had someplace to be. “See you at the bar.”

Champions — Miguel Angel Jimenez is off to another great start on the PGA Tour Champions in Hawaii.

Jimenez, the cigar-smoking, free-spirited Spaniard, birdied the par-4 18th hole in regulation for a 6-under 66 and then beat Steven Alker on the second playoff hole to win the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai for the third time.

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“It’s a nice way to start a season. It’s nice to be here, winning again in Hualalai,” Jimenez said. “The golf course, I like it very much. The golf course is set up in beautiful condition this year. They make it very good here at Hualalai.”

Jimenez won two years ago in a playoff, along with winning outright in 2015. The season opener is for winners from the last two years and senior major champions from the last five years, along with a few sponsor exemptions.

European — Thomas Pieters claimed the sixth and biggest European tour title of his career by winning the Abu Dhabi Championship by one shot after a turbulent final round.

The Belgian, who turns 30 next week, shot an even par 72 in the final round for a total of 278 to edge Rafa Cabrera Bello and Shubhankar Sharma in joint second.

Viktor Hovland (72) fell short in his bid for a third victory in his last four events and finished in joint fourth place with Victor Dubuisson (69), two shots back.

Amateur — The flag of the Cayman Islands will fly at Augusta National in April after Aaron Jarvis made birdie on the final hole for a 3-under 69 and a one-shot victory in a tense ending to the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The victory means Jarvis, a 19-year-old UNLV freshman, earns a spot in the Masters and the British Open at St. Andrews. He also is exempt into the final stage of US Open qualifying.

“I can’t even put this into words. What a day,” Jarvis said. “It means the world to me. The opportunity to go to the Masters, the British Open. There’s no young golfer who doesn’t dream of anything but going to those tournaments.”

He will be the first player from the Cayman Islands to compete at the Masters and British Open.

Jarvis was one shot behind when his second shot into the par-5 18th on the Teeth of the Dog course at Casa de Campo came up just short and took a big hop onto the green. He two-putted for birdie and posted a 7-under 281.