NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nevada: 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 on Sunday (Monday in Manila) 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 coronavirus 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.
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.
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, 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.