LAS VEGAS — Jason Kokrak was playing for the 233rd time in his 10th season on the PGA Tour without ever having won, so he didn’t need any reminders Sunday in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek that anything would come easily.
He watched Xander Schauffele stuff a wedge to 5 feet for birdie and roll in a 45-foot birdie putt from the thick collar of the 13th green on the next hole to tie for the lead.
Kokrak never flinched.
Holding his nerve to the end and delivering all the key shots, Kokrak matched the low score of the week with an 8-under 64 to overcome a three-shot deficit at the start and win by two shots to finally be able to call himself a PGA Tour winner.
“To wait this long for my first win, it’s a pretty special thing,” Kokrak said. “Couldn’t be happier.”
The timing couldn’t have been 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, and he has played the course some two dozen times.
“It feels like home,” Kokrak said. “I’ve played this golf course enough that I should know it by now.”
Adding to the feeling was having outdueled Schauffele, who made him work for it.
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 that stretched his lead to two shots.
Schauffele answered with three straight birdies, the last one a 45-footer that made it feel as though he was going to claim another PGA Tour victory by coming from behind.
It all turned on the par-5 16th, when both missed the fairway to the left. Schauffele saw a wood chip behind his ball that he didn’t want to touch in case it caused the ball to move. He advanced it some 85 yards into more rough.
“I didn’t really feel a whole lot of ball when I hit,” Schauffele said. “I don’t want to call it a bad break. All I have to do is hit the fairway and it would have been a different story.”
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.
That proved to the deciding shot as Schauffele couldn’t catch up and closed with a 66.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Schauffele said. “He finally started rolling in some putts and it kind of shows how dangerous he can be out here.”
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.
“Any time you’ve been out here that length of time, you definitely have doubts in your mind,” Kokrak said. “As good as my ball-striking is, as hard as I’ve been working … I let that first win come to me. I knew in my mind I was going to get it done.”
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.
Henley’s hopes ended on the reachable par-4 11th when he drove over the green into thick rough and, facing a downhill chip, left it in the rough short of the green and made bogey on the second-easiest scoring hole at Shadow Creek. That put him four shots behind, and a late push of birdies was never going to be enough.
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.
NORTH LAS VEGAS — Four shots behind at the start of the day, Russell Henley ran off three straight birdies to start the back nine Saturday and posted a 5-under 67 to build a three-shot lead going into the final round of THE CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.
Henley had plenty of help from the other players in his group.
Xander Schauffele, who had a three-shot lead going into the weekend, had a pair of late bogeys and failed to capitalize on the par 5s in his round of 74. Tyrrell Hatton didn’t make a birdie until the final hole in a 73. Of the top 25 players, they were the only two who shot over par.
Henley’s putting has been a great fit for the firm, glass-like greens of Shadow Creek. He leads the field in the most important putting category, and it has carried him to only the second 54-hole lead of his PGA TOUR career.
Henley was at 15-under 201.
Lanto Griffin, who won his first PGA TOUR event a year ago at the Houston Open, found the water off the tee on the par-5 18th and made bogey and still managed a 66. He was at 12-under 204 along with Talor Gooch (69), Jason Kokrak (68) and Schauffele, still in the mix despite a sloppy Saturday.
Hatton was in the group five shots behind with Justin Thomas (68) and Jason Day, who had a 66.
Henley started to close the gap when he got up-and-down from a bunker in front of the green on the par-5 seventh, and Schauffele missed the green on the par-3 eighth and took bogey.
And when they made the turn, Henley took off.
He holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 10, hit driver just through the green on the reachable par-4 11th hole to set up a simple up-and-down for another birdie, and then hit his approach to just inside 5 feet on No. 12 for a third straight birdie.
Henley closed with six straight pars, missing chances on the two par 5s, but no one could catch him.
But he knows what can happen, having flipped his fortunes on Saturday.
“Anybody can come at me,” Henley said. “You can go low out here. The greens are great and it’s gettable, but you’ve got to play well to do that. You’ve got to do everything well. I’ve got to just keep my head down and play a good round for me.”
Schauffele was hopeful of at least finishing his round at par, and that didn’t go his way, either. He went long on the par-3 17th into rough so deep he could barely keep it on the green, leading to his fourth bogey. And he went just over the back of the 18th green in two, again in rough facing a downhill chip that he rolled all the way to the fringe.
Schauffele likes to talk about “strokes gained attitude,” and it was a struggle for him with rounds stretching close to six hours at Shadow Creek because of deep rough, limited marshals and plenty of searching.
Sung Kang knows the feeling. He took an 11 on the par-4 second hole, which included two lost balls when he spent more than three minutes looking and came up empty. He also hit a few backward trying to escape trouble. Nothing worked.
Schauffele wasn’t that bad. It just felt like it.
“I was trying to figure out what was worse, the pace of play or my quality of golf,” he said. “It was kind of a tie today. Not to be a sour person, but just one of those days. Today was my bad day for the week. Got it out of the way before Sunday. I guess I’m in a familiar place being three back now.”
Schauffele has been trailing going into the final round in all four of his PGA TOUR victories.
Henley’s last victory was in 2017 at the Houston Open, where he came from four shots behind in the final round. Now he has a cushion at Shadow Creek, and a hot putter on putting surfaces he loves.
NORTH LAS VEGAS — Xander Schauffele began his second round by missing a 4-foot birdie putt. That was hardly a sign of what was to follow Friday in THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
Schauffele made putts as short as 3 feet and as long as 35 feet. He chipped in from 20 feet. He seemingly couldn’t miss during a two-hour stretch when he made seven birdies over eight holes, including six in a row, for a career-best 29 on the back nine.
His momentum slowed with the pace of play, and he settled an 8-under 64 for a three-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton.
“Some of those holes, you’re not really trying to birdie them, you’re just trying to leave yourself an uphill 35-footer. And fortunately, I made a couple of them,” Schauffele said. “It was a nice stretch. Got a little bit stale there on the other side. Pace of play slowed down a lot, kind of hot, easy to let the mind wander.
“Upset I didn’t make more birdies, but pleased I didn’t make any bogeys.”
He was at 14-under 130 and now has the course record at Shadow Creek, which is hosting THE CJ CUP for this year only because the COVID-19 pandemic made travel to South Korea impractical.
Hatton, among six players who were in England last week for the European Tour’s flagship event, was headed for a rocky finish when he laid up into the rough on the par-5 16th that led to a second straight bogey. He rallied to close with a pair of birdies for a 68.
Russell Henley (68) was another shot back at 10-under 134.
Defending champion Justin Thomas found some momentum with six birdies, despite missing two easy chances on par 5s, for a 66 and was eight shots behind at the halfway point.
“I guess I played my way somewhat back into it,” he said before turning to look at the scores on a nearby monitor. “But Xander kind of went off today, so that makes it a little harder.”
Thomas kept glancing at video boards trying to figure out what Schauffele was doing, besides making a lot of birdies.
“This is a place you can do it,” Thomas said. “You can go crazy low out here. You’ve got a lot of bowl pins, a lot of pins you can get close to. If you don’t have control of your ball, as firm as the greens are, you can make a lot of bogeys, too.”
It wasn’t just Schauffele making birdies.
He played alongside Collin Morikawa, who shot a 65, and Viktor Hovland, who had a 66. They were a combined 21-under par, with a better-ball score of 59.
Schauffele was doing most of the damage. After his tee shot to 3 feet on the 211-yard 13th hole, he rolled in a 25-foot putt on the next hole, a birdie putt from just over 35 feet on the 15th, two-putted from a sidehill lie on the fringe at the par-5 16th and looked to be in trouble on the par-3 17th when his tee shot landed beyond the green near the creek.
The hop was gentle, leaving him in thick grass, and he chipped in. Then on the par-5 18th, he had to lay up from a fairway bunker, hit wedge to 15 feet below the hole and made that.
That’s when he hit the brakes, and so did the tournament. The course has enough reachable par 5s (and one par 4) to lead to congestion. And with so few volunteers, there is a lot of searching for balls, along with provisional tee shots.
Hovland had one just short of the par-3 fifth hole as he looked through thick grass framing the bunkers. Brooks Koepka had his entire group searching left of the seventh fairway (he also hit a provisional) until it was found. He took a penalty drop into the rough, advanced it down the fairway and made a 12-footer for par.
Koepka, who was 6 under through 13 holes, had to settle for a 68. He was 10 shots behind.
Jon Rahm made a 5-foot eagle putt on his fourth hole. He made four bogeys and no birdies over his next 10 holes, birdied the last for a 73 and was 10 shots behind.
Rory McIlroy had a mixed bag of seven birdies and four bogeys for a 69, leaving him 12 behind and looking for momentum to carry into next week at Sherwood Country Club.
NORTH LAS Vegas, Nev. — Tyrrell Hatton felt grumpy from not getting much sleep, and then he felt he was in a dream when he was 5 under through the opening five holes of The CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.
The reality of Thursday was that even coming off an emotional win at Wentworth and a long trip from London across eight time zones, Hatton hasn’t lost his touch. He tied the course record of 7-under 65 for a one-shot lead.
“It’s fair to say I’m pretty tired at the moment,” Hatton said. “Still struggling a little bit with jet lag. As you can tell by my voice, picked up a little bit of a sore throat on the way over. Today was a long day. Very happy with my score, and I just need to try and get back to the hotel, have a good rest and hopefully sleep better than I did last night.
“And fingers crossed for another good day.”
Hatton posted the lowest competitive round at Shadow Creek, mainly because this is the first PGA TOUR event at the prestigious club. Dustin Johnson, not playing this week because of a positive test result for the coronavirus, had a 65 during a casual round in 2015.
Xander Schauffele birdied the par-5 18th for a 66 and was one shot behind, along with Russell Henley. Jon Rahm and Tyler Duncan were another shot behind.
Rory McIlroy bogeyed his last three holes, a streak that began with him missing a 3-foot par putt, for a 73.
Brooks Koepka, in his first tournament since taking two months off to heal an ailing left hip, showed plenty of signs of rust. He closed with a short iron into the water on the par-5 18th for a bogey and a 74.
It’s hard to imagine a better start than Hatton.
He holed a 10-foot birdie putt on his opening hole at No. 10. He laid up off the tee on the reachable par-4 11th with a 7-iron and still couldn’t hit the fairway, but managed to hit wedge to 3 feet for birdie. He holed out with a lob wedge on the next hole from 92 yards. And on the 14th, he ran in a 25-foot birdie.
“It was nice to have momentum early,” he said. “I imagine it would have been a lot tougher round if, being as tired as I was, we didn’t quite have that momentum.”
Hatton was among six players outside London last week for the BMW PGA Championship, which the Englishman won on the course where he watched as a young lad and was inspired to play golf. So there was emotion, and then a 20-hour trip door-to-door to Las Vegas for a tournament that moved this year from South Korea because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He did well on the eve of the tournament — a little more than five hours sleep, which got him to 5 a.m. It didn’t affect his golf as much as his mood.
“I was grumpy out there. I was quite agitated,” he said. “Even though I had a really good score going, I was just on edge. That’s generally quite a hard thing for me to manage. I wasn’t happy with how I managed myself after some poor shots, but I think this is easy. Everyone loses their cool when they’re tired and haven’t slept enough.”
Rahm’s biggest concern was the speed on his putting, with courses at home in Arizona over-seeding and the greens running on the slow side. What made his round was holing three putts in a row around the turn — one of them for par — to feel more at ease on the slick greens of Shadow Creek.
The only mishap was reaching into his bag for a new glove and realizing they were the wrong size. He had to hustle back to a trash bin to retrieve the one he had been using until he could get a replacement at the turn.
No one had a tougher day than U.S. Open runner-up Matthew Wolff, who didn’t make a birdie in his round of 80.
Jordan Spieth salvaged what could have been a rough day. He was so wild off the tee at times that he hit provisional tee shots on three consecutive holes. He didn’t have to use any of them, birdied three straight round the turn to get to 1 under only to hit a fourth provisional — this one he needed — in making a triple bogey on the 14th. He shot a 74.