It has been nearly four years, but the career of Hudson Swafford may be back on track.
The 33-year-old University of Georgia product used clutch putts on the final two holes to win the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship by one stroke over the anonymous Tyler McCumber. It was Swafford’s second career victory.
It has been a difficult last couple of seasons for Swafford, who came into the week ranked 345th in the OWGR. He snagged his first career win at the 2017 American Express, but only tallied one top-10 in the following two seasons of exemption. Injuries limited him to just 10 starts in the 2020 season, and in five starts since the Tour resumed play after COVID-19 layoff, he missed three cuts, and finished T30 and T56 in the other two starts. He had actually been playing the current season under a major medical exemption.
Swafford has struggled putting four rounds together in recent years, always seeming to have a 75 in his bag somewhere to derail a start, but he was very solid this week in the Dominican Republic, following a 65-67 start with back-to-back rounds of 69. He was the only player in the field to break 70 in each of the four rounds.
Coming into Sunday’s finale, Swafford was in second place, two strokes behind Adam Long, a man who had two runner-up finishes a season ago and finished T13 at last week’s U.S. Open. Long struggled out of the gate, though, leaving a big opening for Swafford, and the Georgia native took full advantage, surging into the lead after a birdie on No. 4 and an eagle on the par-5 5th. After he added birdies on Nos. 7 and 8 to make the turn at 5-under, he threatened to run away with the tournament.
Swafford’s lead reached as many as four, but his closing nine was far less stellar, and he allowed the field – most notably McCumber and Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes, back into the picture, playing holes 10-16 in 3-over. He looked especially uncomfortable with a double-bogey on the par-4 14th.
A phenomenal tee shot on the par-3 17th, however, landed just 15 feet from the hole. A clutch birdie putt put Swafford back out front by one going into the final hole. Needing just a par to win, his lag putt attempt from near the front of the green lagged a little too far, bouncing slightly, and running out of steam eight feet short. For the second straight hole, he nailed a clutch putt, this one sealing the victory.
For the week, he reached 18-under-par, coincidentally the winning score all three times this event has been held since being “promoted” from the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018.
The event, played at the gorgeous Corales Golf Club, the Corales Puntacana Championship was once again heavy in scenery, but lacked severely in field strength. Having to follow the U.S. Open, the field comprised only eight top-100 players in the world rankings, with the only top-50 player being recently struggling former Open Champion Henrik Stenson, who came into the week at No. 43.
Usually an opposite-field event, the tournament only awards 300 FedExCup points to the winner. Despite of that, Stafford was justifiably overjoyed with the victory, and he hopes this leads to more Tour success in the near future.
Hughes ended up finishing third, two strokes behind Swafford. Rounding out the top 5 was Nate Lashley, who won this event in its last year as a Korn Ferry event, and Long, who shot a final-round 75 to fall into solo-fifth, four strokes behind Swafford.
Final Top 10 Leaders
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Hudson Swafford -18 (-3)
2. Tyler McCumber -17 (-6)
3. Mackenzie Hughes -16 (-2)
4. Nate Lashley -15 (-3)
5. Adam Long -14 (+3)
6. James Hahn -13 (-3)
6. Anirban Lahiri -13 (-2)
8. Will Zalatoris -12 (-7)
8. Cameron Percy -12 (-5)
8. Luke List -12 (-1)
How Hudson Swafford Won the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship
Hudson Swafford was one of four players to open the week with a 7-under 65 – Tyler McCumber, Scott Harrington, and Sepp Straka were the others – but was the only one of the four to go sub-70 on Friday as well, shooting a second-round 5-under 67.
Swafford looked a little more ordinary in a 3-under 69 on Saturday, where he parred the entire back nine, and fell two strokes behind Long, who went 65-64 in the mid rounds. Swafford came out swinging on Sunday, not leaking any oil until late, and after his considerable lead became a co-lead, he hit several clutches shots between 17 and 18 to come out a stroke ahead of McCumber.
His 21 birdies for the week tied for the fifth best in the field, and he had just six holes of bogey or worse. He drove tremendously on the weekend, hitting 23 of 28 fairways, a considerable improvement from his last full-time season, where he finished 158th on Tour in driving accuracy.
Swafford’s Winning Stats
Driving: 303.0 yards (13th)
Fairways: 78.6% (44/56) (14th)
Greens: 70.8% (51/72) (26th)
Putting: 1.647 (5th)
Birdies: 21 (5th)
Scores: 2 Eagles, 21 Birdies, 38 Pars, 5 Bogeys, 2 Doubles
What It Means For Swafford
The Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship might award less in regards to Cup points, OWGR points, and event exemptions, but like all Tour events, it comes with a two-season exemption, which is especially nice for a journeyman player like Hudson Swafford, especially since this is just the third event of the 2021 wrap-around season. He will get the rest of this season, and then the following two.
He is likely disappointed to lose out on a Masters invite due to its status as an opposite field event. He has qualified for just four major championship starts in his career, missing the cut in all four. It still greatly increases his chances of getting some major starts via world ranking and FedExCup points if he is able to continue playing well.
Swafford’s 2021 Season
Wins: 1 (Corales)
Money: $735,114 (5th)
FedExCup: 505 (3rd)
OWGR Start/Now: 342/165
Tyler McCumber was the man who put the most pressure on Hudson Swafford down the stretch. The 33-year-old, who had never posted better than a T19 in 23 career Tour starts, shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 on Sunday, which tied three other players for the lowest score in round four.
It was extremely encouraging for him, as his only made-cut in his last eight Tour starts was a T29 at the opposite-field Barracuda Championship. McCumber jumped from 7th to 2nd with his strong finish.
Sunday’s low man was Will Zalatoris, who jumped 37 spots, from T45 to T8. The 24-year-old, who led the Korn Ferry Tour money list last season, was the betting favorite for the week, largely as a result of the impressive T6 he posted at last week’s U.S. Open. At Winged Foot, Zalatoris made himself known to golf fans with an ace in the first round, and very nearly got a second in the same day.
The only man in the field to rise further up the final day leaderboard than Zalatoris was Hank Lebioda, one of the three players who matched McCumber’s 66. His only sub-70 round of the week moved the 26-year-old Florida State product 40 spots from T61 to T21. The other two players with Sunday 66’s were Sangmoon Bae and Sam Burns, both of who jumped 37 spots from T65 to T28.
Adam Long struggling with the lead was surprising, given that he once outdueled Phil Mickelson in a win at the 2019 Desert Classic. Long, who finished T13 at last week’s U.S. Open, had just two Sunday birdies after carding a combined 17 between the second and third rounds. He shot a 3-over 75 to drop from the 54-hole lead to solo-fifth place.
Much was made of the 67-67 start to the week for four-time Tour champion Sean O’Hair, who has struggled to find consistently good form since his last victory in 2011. A 2-over 74 on Sunday made it an even-par weekend for the 38-year-old, dropping him from T5 to T14 on the final day’s leaderboard.
China’s Xinjun Zhang was just four strokes back of Long’s lead heading into the final round, but saw his chances evaporate after a bogey-double bogey stretch on the front nine. He matched O’Hair’s 74 and fell from T4 to T11. Zhang has missed 7 cuts in 11 starts since the Tour restart, but finished in the T10-T14 range all four times he made the weekend.
“I Love Hitting That Shot!”
“It was like the shot on 17 at PGA West when I won. I had hit two good shots on 16, and hit a really great putt, but I was bummed out, and I was just like ‘man, youve gotta step up’. I hit a good-flighted six-iron, and I’ve done it 100,000 times; I love hitting that golf shot, and man, it was a good one, and an even better putt”.
– Hudson Swafford