Playoff football stole the spotlight in the sports world this weekend, but while this week’s PGA Tour event, The American Express, did not quite host the drama of a Cooper Kupp bomb or an Evan McPherson walk–off field goal, it was a clinic on how to take control of a tournament.
With an eagle on 16 and a birdie on 17, Hudson Swafford emerged from a crowded leaderboard at PGA West’s Stadium Course to take the 63rd edition of The American Express by two strokes over Tom Hoge.
It was the third career victory for Swafford, a 34-year-old University of Georgia product, who also won the 2017 event by a stroke. His final-round 8-under 64 came in spite of three bogeys, which were more than overcome by the late eagle and nine birdies.
Despite his victory at this La Quinta, California event five years ago, Swafford was not on the radar of many coming into the week. In eight starts on the 2022 season, his best finish was a T35 at November’s Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open. Even in this event, his finishes since that victory were a T29, a T65, and then back-to-back missed cuts, respectively.
In addition, Swafford was playing with a heavy heart, teeing it up in his first official PGA Tour event since his father died last month of Parkinson’s Disease.
He got his week off to a pedestrian start, but after following a Friday 65 with a Saturday 66, Swafford found himself at 15-under-par for the week, and in a tie for fifth place, three strokes behind the unlikely lead duo of rookie Lee Hodges and 29-year-old French golfer Paul Barjon.
A bogey on the first hole was not helpful, but Swafford was able to not let it end his round; after all, he did the exact same thing when he won at PGA West in 2017. Birdies at 2, 5, 6, and 8 allowed him to make the turn at 3-under, and had him squarely in contention on a Sunday leaderboard that had a mix of accomplished vets and complete unknowns.
Swafford did not cool down any on the back. In fact, he did not card another par until the very last hole. Exploding out of the back-nine gates with consecutive birdies on 10, 11, and 12 vaulted him to the front for the first time.
A bogey-birdie-bogey stretch over his next three holes resulted in a shared lead as he approached the par-5 16th hole. The physically-imposing Swafford then unleashed a 339-yard beauty off the tee. From 198 yards away, he then stuck his approach to eight feet, which he then sunk for the eagle to assert himself as the man to beat. A subsequent birdie on the par-3 17th essentially put the tournament to rest, as he then held a three-stroke lead going to 18. A clutch par – his first since the ninth hole – was enough to prevent anyone from later catching him.
Finishing three strokes back in a tie for third was Hodges, who captured the best Tour finish (by far) of his young career, in addition to two former Tour champions in Brian Harman and Lanto Griffin. Reigning Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay, who held the 36-hole lead, finished five strokes back at solo-ninth, while world No. 1 Jon Rahm stalled on the back nine and finished T14.
The American Express: Final Leaderboard
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Hudson Swafford -23 (-8)
2. Tom Hoge -21 (-4)
3. Brian Harman -20 (-8)
3. Lanto Griffin -20 (-5)
3. Lee Hodges -20 (-2)
6. Will Zalatoris -19 (-5)
6. Denny McCarthy -19 (-5)
6. Francesco Molinari -19 (-4)
9. Patrick Cantlay -18 (-4)
10. Paul Barjon -17 (+1)
11. Sungjae Im -16 (-6)
11. Si Woo Kim -16 (-5)
14. Russell Henley -15 (-5)
14. Zach Johnson -15 (-3)
14. Jon Rahm -15 (-1)
14. Seamus Power -15 (+2)
25. Scottie Scheffler -12 (-5)
33. Justin Rose -11 (-3)
33. Lucas Glover -11 (+1)
40. Abraham Ancer -10 (-2)
40. Tony Finau -10 (-3)
49. Jason Day -9 (-2)
55. Patrick Reed -8 (-1)
How Hudson Swafford Won The American Express
It’s not often that a round with three bogeys results in something like an 8-under 64, yet that was Swafford’s Sunday reality as he looked unstoppable for much of the day. His nine birdies in the fourth round gave him 29 for the week, which led the field at La Quinta. He did not have any bogey-free rounds, but never let the mistakes he did make take him off course.
Swafford is not known to be a great putter, but as he stated after his round he “rolled it unbelievably all week,” and the 6.4 strokes he gained on the field over the weekend with his flat stick was second in the field. He also finished fourth in the field for the weekend in strokes gained: approach-the-green, leading to a field-best 11.2 strokes gained total.
Swafford’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 306.9 (29th)
Fairways: 64.29% (36/56) (T76)
Greens: 72.22% (52/72) (T33)
Putts/GIR: 1.577 (8th)
Birdies: 29 (1st)
Off the Tee: -0.395 (45th)
Approach Green: 4.308 (4th)
Putting: 6.402 (2nd)
Total: 11.202 (1st)
What It Means For Swafford
Swafford has a tendency to play himself out of a lot of tournaments, but has a history of staying composed when he does get into contention. This is well-illustrated by his 2021 season where he missed 17 cuts in 29 starts, but among his three top-10s were a victory at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship and a T2 at the Palmetto Championship At Congaree.
His other top-10 was a T6 in March that came off the heels of five consecutive missed cuts, and was followed by an additional five consecutive missed cuts. Swafford will be hoping this victory and what he learned from it will lead to more consistency and more weeks in contention.
The victory gives Swafford a Masters-exemption, making this upcoming April the first time he has qualified for any major in back-to-back years. He has made six career major starts, missing the cut in all six.
In addition, Swafford’s world ranking rocketed from 166th to 61st, the first time he has been inside the top 100 since February of 2018. His FedExCup ranking also saw a precipitous rise, from 123rd to 7th.
Swafford’s 2022 Season
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 1 (The Amex)
Additional Top 10: 0
Earnings: $1,529,226 (10th)
FedExCup Pts: 573 (7th)
World Rank Before/After: 166/61
Swafford’s 64 was the field-low, matched only by Brian Harman, who was bogey-free, vaulting himself into contention as he was searching for his first victory since the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship.
Also a former Georgia Bulldog, a teammate of Swafford’s in fact, the 35-year-old had his typical exceptional putting on display gaining 3.1 strokes to the field on the final day. He had just one bogey the entire weekend after carding three of them in the second round.
The next-best score in the field was the 6-under 66 put together by young Korean star Sungjae Im. The 23-year-old was bogey-free on Sunday, and was stellar with his approaches all week, leading the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green. The 66 allowed Im to propel 20 spots up the final leaderboard from T31 to T11, just one position from what would have been his fourth top-10 in seven starts this season.
Will Zalatoris, a former Korn Ferry Tour star, who posted three top-10s in majors last season as a non-member, used 10 consecutive birdies at the Nicklaus Course in round 2 to shoot an absurd 11-under 61 and vault himself into contention. An average 2-under 70 on Saturday prevented him from having a great chance at his first career Tour win, but he was exceptional again on Sunday, shooting a bogey-free 5-under 67 to rise from T11 to T6.
Ireland’s Seamus Power arrived at La Quinta on a tear, with three straight finishes, and five finishes in his last six starts, inside the top 15. Power was in the mix heading into Sunday again, just two strokes out of the lead in fourth place, but he played himself out of the tournament with a pair of double-bogeys on 1 and 6. He rebounded somewhat with four birdies in a six-hole stretch from 7-12, before a late bogey on 15 led to a 2-over 74, which dropped him from T4 to T14.
Meanwhile, Paul Barjon’s first time in Sunday contention at a PGA Tour event did not end the way he had hoped it would. The 29-year-old played his first seven holes in 2-over, birdied 8 and 9 to get back in the mix, but then was unable to get anything going on the back nine, with one bogey to 8 pars, leading to a 1-over 73 that dropped him from the co-lead to solo-10th.
This was Barjon’s 14th career PGA Tour start, getting his 2022 Tour card via a strong 2021 on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Harold Varner III, a popular player searching for his first career victory, rocketed himself into the leadership mix by playing his first eight holes in 3-under and reaching 18-under for the week. Unfortunately for Varner, however, he collapsed over the final ten holes, chasing a bogey on 9 with a triple-bogey on 10, eventually shooting a 2-over 74 that plummeted him 17 spots down the final leaderboard, from T5 to T22. The 31-year-old has the 15th best third-round average on Tour, but is 158th in round-four scoring average.
Rolling It Unbelievable…
“It was a good par on the last. I was hitting it so good all day. I’ve been hitting good all week, but the driver was not quite there, and I’ve been rolling it unbelievable, and when I was over the highway yesterday, and hit about 20 balls and just tried to stay a little taller in my posture, and just thought of that today, and I hit it unbelievable and gave myself plenty of opportunities. The way I’ve been rolling it this week, I knew if I kept giving myself chances, I was going to be just fine.”
– Hudson Swafford, The American Express Champion