Golf: Jason Kokrak emerges from the shadows

In 233rd try, things finally fall into place for American to end title drought in Las Vegas

Jason Kokrak conquering his nerves to shoot a solid 64 in the final round to avoid a fourth runner-up PGA Tour finish in his career. PHOTO: REUTERS
Jason Kokrak conquering his nerves to shoot a solid 64 in the final round to avoid a fourth runner-up PGA Tour finish in his career.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • Jason Kokrak failed to win on the PGA Tour on 232 previous occasions.

He finally succeeded at the next time of asking, beating a stacked field including world No. 8 Xander Schauffele, three-time Tour winner Russell Henley, former world No. 1 Jason Day and ninth-ranked Tyrrell Hatton, coming off a victory at the BMW PGA Championship the previous week.

Kokrak reeled off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch on Sunday en route to winning the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.

The 35-year-old American fired a final round eight-under 64 to finish 72 holes at the Las Vegas layout on 20-under 268 to defeat compatriot Schauffele (66) by two strokes, while Hatton (65) and Henley (70) finished a further shot behind.

"Game plan was simple - hit fairways," Kokrak said. "Gave myself more opportunities than I had the past couple days and I took advantage of them."

The world No. 53 had come close to tasting victory before as a three-time Tour runner-up - at the 2012 Frys.com Open, the 2016 Northern Trust Open and the 2019 Valspar Championship.

However, having to go without a win since joining the PGA Tour 10 years ago left him dealing with "some scar tissue".

"If you're not nervous, you're not alive... I definitely had some nerves going… but I knew in my own mind that I was going to get it done, it was just a matter of time of me getting out of my own way and letting it happen," he said.

"Because my game is right there with the best players in the world and I just need to continue to believe so, and if the putting's there for me, we're going to be right there in contention.

"Finally got it done. Couldn't be happier. I did a good job of hitting the spots we were putting to. I'm happy with my putting. All the work we've been putting in has paid off."

Kokrak made 14 putts from beyond 10 feet for the week, his most in any Tour start, while Schauffele, who shared second at last year's Masters and last month's Tour Championship, missed out on his fifth PGA title.

  • 10 

    Years Jason Kokrak played on the PGA Tour before his first win.

At the par-three 17th, Schauffele holed a five-footer for par to stay one back of Kokrak heading to the par-five 18th.

It was a hole Schauffele had birdied in two of the three previous rounds but he missed a 10-foot birdie putt, while Kokrak two-putted for birdie and the win.

"It was a nice duel between the two of us," Kokrak said.

"We brought out the best in each other.

"It was very nice to come up 18 and have a one-shot lead. Xander's a great player, he's a proven Tour winner.

"To solidify my first win here against a great player like that makes it a little more special."

The tournament, originally based in South Korea, was moved to Las Vegas due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while the Zozo Championship starts on Thursday, not in Japan but in California.

There are no Asian-based Tour events this year - the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai has been axed - but all three events are expected to return to the continent next year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2020, with the headline 'Kokrak emerges from the shadows'. Print Edition | Subscribe