PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — For most of Sunday it looked like Hudson Swafford was poised for a runaway victory at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
Instead he had to make a nervy 8-foot par saver to notch his second career PGA TOUR victory after he battled back from a back-nine double bogey.
“My caddie, Kyle, and I, we were talking. I thought the putt might go a little right, he said it might go a little left. He just said, “Man, just hit a solid putt. You’ve hit a lot of them, just hit one more solid putt,’” said Swafford of his par save on 18. “I hit a great one.”
Swafford, at one point, had a four-shot lead. He was 5-under through nine holes and looked to be cruising. But a six on the par-4 13th brought Swafford back to the field. He made another bogey on the par-4 15th.
Swafford, who won The American Express in 2017 for his maiden TOUR victory, stuffed a 6-iron to kick-in distance on the par-3 17th – a shot he said was similar to what he did three years ago on the 17th hole in Palm Desert.
“I was just envisioning my shot at 17 on PGA West when I stepped up on the 17th green,” Swafford said. “(My caddie) said, ‘You know, this is just a three-quarter 6-iron, you’ve been hitting your 6-iron great all day, all week, just hit one more. It’s a 190, just do it,’ and I hit a beauty, then solid putt and went right in.”
After he left his birdie putt short on the 72nd hole he seemed to take a little extra time over his par attempt.
Swafford went all week without three-putting and he wasn’t going to notch his first three-putt of the week on the 72nd hole.
“I don’t even know which side of the hole it went in on, I just know it was going in,” said Swafford.
He finished at 18-under par, the third straight winner at Corales Puntacana to finish with that score. Tyler McCumber finished runner-up at 17-under while Mackenzie Hughes, who finished T2 at Corales Puntacana last season, finished third.
Swafford’s back-nine battle wasn’t the only thing he had battled to get back to the PGA TOUR winner circle, as he had just two starts left on his Major Medical this week.
He missed time in 2018-19 after he had surgery in July of 2019 to remove a bone in his right foot. He said he realized something was amiss when halfway through a tournament he’d feel miserable while walking.
“And that’s what I do for a living is walk,” Swafford said. “Ended up finding out I had a broken bone in the bottom of my foot that it had to be removed. They took it out. The bone was dead. I felt like I had just gotten confidence back and then that setback was there.
“It’s been a struggle.”
Still, Swafford credits his wife Katherine for his ability to return to the PGA TOUR winner’s circle. He and Katherine are now parents for the first time (James Hudson Swafford Jr. was born in December 2018).
“Being a father is the best thing in the world to me. Wouldn’t want it any other way. My wife and I, we are blessed,” said Swafford. “(My wife and I) come down here to the Dominican and actually kind of take a vacation with a little golf involved. It’s been an excellent week. We can’t wait to see him next week.”
And when they see him, Swafford can tell his son he is a PGA TOUR winner once again.
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — After just missing out on playing in the TOUR Championship last season, Adam Long is already motivated early in the 2020-21 campaign to get to East Lake.
Long fired an 8-under-par 64 Saturday at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship and leads by two heading into Sunday’s final round. He’s looking for his second PGA TOUR victory after winning The American Express in 2019 as a rookie.
Although Long captured his maiden TOUR title in 2019, he missed 16 cuts and finished 69th on the FedExCup standings that season.
Last season he was much more steady. He missed only seven cuts and notched two runner-up results (at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and the 3M Open) but he ended up 31st on the FedExCup standings.
Long just missed a spot at East Lake after Mackenzie Hughes (his playing partner Saturday at Corales) converted a par save on the 72nd hole at the BMW Championship to earn one of the final spots up for grabs at the TOUR Championship.
“That was tough, honestly,” said Long of being the-guy-on-the-bubble a few weeks ago. “I was inside the number down the stretch those last handful of events and just didn’t get it done. I didn’t play well enough to do it.
“Obviously there were a lot of scenarios that could have happened that would have helped me get in, but I didn’t take care of my own business.”
Long said being on the cusp of earning a spot at East Lake made him realize how important the events on the fall portion of the TOUR schedule are in the long run.
“I already kind of knew that, but these tournaments matter in September and October. At a couple of points (during the season) I was only (outside the top-30 in the FedExCup standings) by a couple of points,” he said.
“I want to get there. I know that I’ve proven that I can and I know that I want to. I was pretty close last year obviously, so it would be a dream. That’s a big goal of mine this year.”
Long has leaned on his putting to get him to the top of the leaderboard through three rounds in the Dominican Republic. On Saturday at Corales he had nine one-putts on his last 10 holes.
“It was nice when those days are like that where you’re just kind of feeling the putter and you’re just making putts,” said Long. “It was nice. I wasn’t thinking about a whole lot of things, I was just trying to make everything.”
Long’s 64 is tied for the low round of the week so far. He made four birdies on both the front and back nines Saturday, including rattling off three-in-a-row on No’s 12-14.
“I didn’t have much going today and I was watching Adam play awesome, so it was like getting run over by a semi,” said Hughes of Long’s Saturday stretch. Hughes chipped in twice on the back nine en route to making three birdies in a row and will be in the penultimate pairing Sunday.
Long, who finished 13th on the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season money list to earn a TOUR card, is one of 12 players in the Dominican Republic who was also at the U.S. Open a week ago.
He finished T13 there, his highest such result in a major championship.
It’s a big contrast from Winged Foot this week, he said, but he’s taken the adjustments in stride.
“That was just such a mental grind; it was just trying to hit a fairway,” said Long of the U.S. Open setup. “This is more about making birdies, so it’s been a bit of an adjustment getting used to different greens and all that.
“But I’ve been (to Corales) before and I’ve always liked coming here, so I’m here.”
Now he’s trying to get back to another place he’s been before – the PGA TOUR winner’s circle – in hopes of getting somewhere he’s not yet been: TOUR Championship.
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — A hornet sting early and a bunch of birdies late carried Hudson Swafford to a 5-under 67 on Friday for a two-shot lead going into the weekend of the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship.
Joining him in the final group will be Sean O’Hair, who missed an entire year with a torn oblique and returned just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to shut down golf.
Swafford played in the morning when it was humid along the Caribbean Sea but without much wind. He started on the back nine and it was largely uneventful, except for that hornet that stung him on the joint of his pinky finger while he reached for his putter after playing one hole.
“It started swelling up, so I was just kind of rubbing ice on it after tee shots for the first five, six holes on the back side,” Swafford said. “I guess it kind of cleared my mind of the golf thing and just let me focus on something else.”
Swafford has a good feel for the greens this week, so his objective was to give himself enough chances. After a pair of birdies on the back nine, and then a few mistakes when the wind arrived, Swafford ran off three birdies at the end of his round and set the target at 12-under 132.
“My caddie got stung yesterday on the forearm on the first hole, and I guess he said it’s kind of a good omen,” Swafford said. “We played well, and we ended up playing well again today.”
Two shots behind were O’Hair (67), former Southern Cal star Justin Suh (67) and Luke List (65).
All have dealt with some form of injuries. Swafford is missed most of last summer with foot surgery. Suh had a wrist injury right when he turned pro that slowed his progress.
And then there was 38-year-old O’Hair, a four-time PGA Tour winner. He tore his oblique at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February 2019, had surgery to repair and remove scar tissues, and he didn’t play another PGA Tour event until Pebble Beach this year. He played the Honda Classic. And then golf shut down.
“I’ve been out pretty much almost a year-and-a-half now,” said O’Hair, who missed the cut in the Safeway Open last week. “So it’s trying to get in a groove again, in the routine again. My body is still not quite there as far as the workload that you do from traveling and hitting balls and walking and practice. It’s kind of hard to practice that at home.
“I’ve tried to play as much as I can at home to get ready for this, and this is going to be my first three weeks in a row for a year-and-a-half, so that’s going to be a big task for me, for sure.”
Suh chipped in for birdie on the 17th, and then made an 18-foot par putt on the 18th when his approach rolled off the side of the green into a collection area.
Mackenzie Hughes of Canada had a 67 and was at 9-under 135 along with Adam Long, who ran off six straight birdies and was 8 under through 12 holes on his round until he made back-to-back bogeys. He had to settle for a 65, still not a bad way to celebrate his 33rd birthday.
The cut was at 3-under 141, and among those missing the weekend was Graham DeLaet. The Canadian opened with a 78 and was 14 shots better Friday. But his 64 left him one shot short of making the cut.
Defending champion Graeme McDowell shot 73 and missed the cut.
The tournament was a Korn Ferry Tour event three years ago. It graduated to an opposite-field event, and then was elevated to a full FedEx Cup event for this year when it was postponed until late September, and then the Ryder Cup this week was postponed until 2021.
That means the winner this week gets an invitation to the Masters next April, and the final two rounds will be broadcast on NBC Sports, which had set aside this time for the Ryder Cup.
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic — Tyler McCumber was the only player to reach 8-under par Thursday in the Caribbean breeze until he dropped a shot on his 17th hole and fell into a four-way for the lead in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
Sepp Straka was the only one at 7-under 65 who kept a clean card. He was joined by Hudson Swafford, who made two tough par saves late in his round, and Scott Harrington, who made bogey on the second-easiest hole at the Corales Golf Club.
They were one shot clear of Xinjun Zhang and Joseph Bramlett, while former Southern California star Justin Suh got his season off to a happy start and was among those at 67.
Straka’s round was highlighted by a 5-wood to 5 feet for eagle on the par-5 fourth hole early in his round. He also was the only player at 65 who played in the morning before a stiff ocean breeze kicked up late in the afternoon.
“This course is not really one where you can push it,” Straka said. “You can shoot a low round out here, but it’s got to be a consistent low round.”
Rob Oppenheim would appreciate that. He was 4 under through six holes, only to make a pair of bogeys and then take a double-bogey 7 on the par-5 12th hole. He wound up with a 72.
Nearly two-thirds of the 144-man field broke par.
McCumber, the son of 10-time PGA TOUR winner Mark McCumber, also made eagle on No. 4 and his birdie on the par-5 seventh took him to 8 under. But his approach on the next hole went long, along the rocks. He tried to play from there and moved it sideways, and he kept the damage to a bogey by making an 8-foot bogey putt.
Harrington never feels more relaxed than on resort courses along the ocean, and such was the case as he motored his way into a share of the lead. But toward the end of his round, he hit a tee shot so wild the ball was deemed lost and he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. He managed to make bogey.
He rolled in a birdie putt on the next hole, and then hit his tee shot to 8 feet on the par-3 ninth, only to burn the edge of the cup on his birdie attempt to finish the round.
Swafford had four birdies in five holes to start the back nine, but then it was a matter of hanging on. From a fluffy lie left of the 16th green, his pitched stopped quickly and he made a 12-foot par for par. Then, he found a front bunker on the par-3 17th along the Caribbean, blasted out to 7 feet and made that. He finished with a birdie to join a share of the lead.
Suh was featured last summer as part of a strong college class turning pro, holding a press conference at the Travelers Championship with Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland.
Morikawa won three starts later and captured the PGA Championship last month. Wolff won a week later and finished second to Bryson DeChambeau last week at Winged Foot in the U.S. Open. Hovland won in Puerto Rico earlier this year.
Suh missed nine out of 11 cuts on sponsor exemptions in PGA TOUR events since turning pro, though he played well on the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica.
“They really got their game together just right off the bat turning pro,” Suh said. “Unfortunately, on the first few starts that I had I was facing a wrist injury and just kind of had to battle back. Kind of changed my swing a little bit just so I wouldn’t have to face that anymore.”
He’s healthy now. Suh said he played with Morikawa a few weeks ago and beat him in a friendly match.
“So the game’s there,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting it together at a tournament.”