In a four-way tie for the 54-hole lead at the Valero Texas Open, J.J. Spaun‘s dream of his first career PGA Tour title got off to a nightmare start when he opened with a double-bogey to knock him back immediately amid a crowded leaderboard.
In fact, no player had won a tournament where they double-bogeyed the first hole on Sunday since Tiger Woods in his epic 2008 U.S. Open triumph over a scrappy, motivated Rocco Mediate.
Fortunately for Spaun, he played his next 17 holes exactly how he needed to, and as he hit the closing stretch, it looked all but over for the field. Spaun’s 3-under 69 brought him to 13-under for the week at TPC San Antonio, and gave him a two-stroke victory at the Valero over two-time Tour winner Matt Jones and nine-time Tour champion Matt Kuchar.
Despite being a co-leader through 54 holes, alongside Brandt Snedeker, Beau Hossler, and Dylan Frittelli, Spaun didn’t even play in the final threesome, as he’d finished his Saturday round last among those four. Some would see that as an advantage for Spaun, but regardless, he was sure not in an advantageous position after his wayward approach on the first tee made it nearly impossible to get up and down.
After the round, the 31-year-old San Diego State product said that the opening double-bogey strangely calmed him. We cannot say for sure if that was true, but he undeniably looked nothing but calm through the rest of his stellar finishing round.
Early on in the final round, it appeared a different player could be winning his first Tour event in Hossler, a popular player in the field as a result of being a former star at the University of Texas. The 27-year-old rebounded from an early gaffe of his own – a bogey on the par-5 2nd – with a birdie on the par-3 3rd. Hossler was 2-under par on his front nine, and took the solo-at the turn.
Hossler, however, was unable to keep his positive form over his final nine: he bogeyed the par-4 10th, and then basically saw the rest of his chances go up in smoke when a botched third shot on the par-5 14th sailed over the hole into a penalty area. A double-bogey suddenly had him over-par for the day. He finished with an even-par 72 and finished T4.
Spaun was able to steady his round on the front, and jumped back into serious contention with birdies on Nos. 6, 8, and 9, putting his round at 1 under when turning. While Hossler faded, Spaun surged ahead with additional birdies on 11 and 14.
Spaun’s biggest opponents down the stretch were a pair of Matt’s: Looking for his 10th career victory, and his first since he had two in the 2018 season, Kuchar began the final day two strokes out of the lead, which he needed just two holes to make his presence known with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2. He fell back to even with bogeys on 7 and 8, but then gave himself a chance with a bogey-free back-nine, adding birdies on 12, 14, and 17. Needing a two-shot swing with Spaun on 18, he closed with a disappointing par to take runner-up position. Kuchar needed the victory to qualify for his 13th consecutive Masters Tournament next week.
Along with Kuchar, Spaun found a Sunday threat in the Aussie Jones, the runaway winner of the 2021 Honda Classic just over 12 months ago. A 41-year-old Aussie with a propensity for birdie binges, Jones began the final day outside the top 20, but played his first five holes in 4-under. Still at 4-under through 13. He played his next four holes birdie, birdie, bogey, birdie, and similar to Kuchar, was unable to get closer on the par-5 finishing hole, also carding a par. However, his 6-under 66 tied for Sunday’s lowest round. Jones finished T2 despite making the cut on the number after a 75 on Friday.
Spaun reached 13-under for the week with four holes to go, putting him two out front. With pars on 15, 16, and 17, he held a two-stroke advantage on the final hole, in a group with Kuchar. Spaun hit his tee shot on 18 into the left rough, but rebounded beautiful and left himself a tap-in for par on the final hole, and his first career PGA victory.
In addition to a phenomenal Sunday bounceback, the victory added emphasis to a remarkable career bounceback. Beginning as a full-time Tour member in the 2016 season, Spaun finished in the top 100 of the FedExCup rankings in each of his first three seasons, amassing nine-top 10s in that time, including a runner-up at the 2017 RSM Classic and two third-place finishes.
However, Spaun saw a precipitous drop in his results beginning in the 2019 season, a dropoff that can be largely imputed to a Type II diabetes misdiagnosis in 2018. Over the next two seasons, he managed just one top 10 in 46 starts and needed to go outside the Tour to earn his card for the following season both years.
Spaun had been much better in the 2022 season, making the weekend in 12 of 16 starts and finishing T25 or better four times. Now with a victory on hand, the future is more clear. In fact the very immediate future is especially clear: with the victory, Spaun earned the final spot into next week’s Masters Tournament, the first time he has qualified for the iconic event.
Valero Texas Open Leaderboard
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. J.J. Spaun -13 (-3)
2. Matt Jones -11 (-6)
2. Matt Kuchar -11 (-3)
4. Adam Hadwin -10 (-5)
4. Troy Merritt -10 (-3)
4. Charles Howell III -10 (-3)
4. Beau Hossler -10 (E)
8. Keegan Bradley -9 (-6)
8. Matthias Schwab -9 (-4)
8. Gary Woodland -9 (-2)
8. Brendon Todd -9 (-2)
8. Dylan Frittelli -9 (+1)
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
13. Zach Johnson -8 (-5)
18. Henrik Stenson -7 (-3)
29. Tony Finau -6 (-3)
35. Jordan Spieth -5 (-5)
35. Corey Conners -5 (-5)
1. J.J. Spaun ($1.54m)
2. Matt Jones ($765k)
2. Matt Kuchar ($765k)
4. Adam Hadwin ($344k)
4. Troy Merritt ($344k)
4. Charles Howell III ($344k)
4. Beau Hossler ($344k)
How J.J. Spaun Won The Valero Texas Open
There was not a time the entire week where Spaun was not directly in the mix. He opened with a 5-under 67, putting him just one off the lead after 18 holes. In round two, he bogeyed three of his final four holes, but still shot a respectable 2-under 70, and then on Saturday, despite a double-bogey on 9 and a bogey on 18, a 3-under 69 got him into the four-way 54-hole lead.
With eight bogeys and two double-bogeys on the week, Spaun had plenty of reason to fold, but continually bounced back. His 23 birdies (combined with a Thursday eagle on 8) tied for the field-high. His shotmaking was excellent for the week, as he finished fifth in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green. On Sunday, his best statistic was gaining 2.2 strokes on the field around-the-greens.
Also remarkable is the fact that a year ago, Spaun missed the Valero cut by a mile, falling to 9-over after rounds of 78 and 75. His worst round this time was a 2-under 70; a very significant improvement.
J.J. Spaun’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 304.8 yards (90th)
Longest Drive: 330 yards (124th)
Fairways: 64.29%, 36/56 (13th)
Greens: 66.67%, 48/72 (23rd)
Scrambling: 58.33% (77th)
Putts/GIR: 1.542 (3rd)
Scores: 1 Eagle, 23 Birdies, 38 Pars, 8 Bogeys, 2 Doubles
What It Means For Spaun
Job security is the biggest aspect of this victory for Spaun, as he has his Tour card wrapped up for each of the two seasons after this one (through 2023-24). He rose precipitously in both the FedExCup standings (66th to 10th) and in his world ranking, which jumped from 242nd to a career-high 103rd.
It also gives him considerable momentum heading into his first Masters start next week. He has made just three career major championship starts and just one over the past two seasons, missing the cut at the 2021 U.S. Open.
J.J. Spaun’s 2022 Season
Cuts Made: 14
Wins: 1 (Valero)
Additional Top 10s: 1
Money: $2,312,107 (16th)
Points: 981 (10th)
World Rank Before/After: 242/103
The player to tie Jones for the low round of the day is the recently-hot Keegan Bradley, who – similar to Spaun, had his only over-par hole on the first. He played his final 17 holes in 7-under, with four birdies over his final seven holes to shoot a 6-under 66, and rise a field-high 32 spots from T40 to T8. The former PGA Championship winner had 13 birdies over his weekend rounds and led the field in strokes gained: around-the-green. It was his third finish of T11 or better in his last five starts. He will not be in the field for The Masters next week, however.
Another player continuing recently stellar play was Canada’s Adam Hadwin, who jumped from T21 to T4 after a 5-under 67 that included birdies on four of the final five holes. Hadwin tied Spaun for the week’s birdie lead, and gained at least two strokes tee-to-green in each of the final three rounds. It was Hadwin’s third consecutive top-10 finish on Tour. He too, will have to wait until after The Masters to see if he can keep his hot play going.
Two-time major champion Zach Johnson has done little this season outside of being named the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain, but over the weekend at TPC San Antonio, he looked like a guy who could easily play for the U.S. in that event. After a Saturday 70, the 46-year-old shot a 5-under 67 to rise 27 spots from T40 to T13. He had just one Sunday bogey and saw his week highs in driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Johnson has 12 victories in his PGA Tour career, but is winless since taking the 2015 Open Championship in a four-hole, three-man aggregate playoff.
Sunday’s StumblesAmong the four players who held the lead to begin the final day, the worst round came from the one who was the most accomplished by far. Brandt Snedeker, a 41-year-old 59-club member with nine career Tour victories, carded eight birdies in round 2 and five in round three, but zero in a Sunday 3-over 75 that dropped from first into a tie for 18th. His putting was especially disastrous on Sunday as he lost nearly five strokes to the field with his flat stick alone. It was another disappointing result for Snedeker, who had missed his last five cuts coming into the week and had made the weekend just four times in 14 season starts. He remains winless since the 2017 Wyndham Championship, a tournament he opened with a 59.
Texas native Ryan Palmer has a strong history at Valero, with four top-10s among 11 attempts coming into this week. He looked destined for another great finish when a 68-66 start gave him the 36-hole lead. However, the 45-year-old absolutely imploded on Saturday with a birdieless 5-over 77, and he was only marginally better on Sunday, carding three bogeys in his first five holes. He settled for a 2-over 74 that dropped him 27 spots from T21 to T48.
Maverick McNealy really has an argument to be a Sunday “star” or “stumble”. The 26-year-old former Stanford University star has been in the midst of his best year on Tour, and looks very, very close to breaking through for his first win in a season where a lot of players are seeing victory for the first time. Through three rounds, McNealy was just three strokes off the lead and was tied for seventh. He shot a 2-over 74 on Sunday, dropping him 28 spots from T7 to a disappointing T35, and in that regard this was a “stumble”. However, it could have been MUCH worse. After a triple-bogey on the par-4 10th, McNealy found himself at 6-over and having fallen 50 spots down the leaderboard. Still 6-over through 13, he suddenly got hot and birdied four of his final five holes, which is something he should find very encouraging.
“I think a year ago, to even be on Tour, I would have been telling you I have to do a lot of work to get there, but to be here, to overcome a lot of things, and finally get a win? Man, it’s everything you dream of. There’s so many people I want to thank. It’s incredible; I’m speechless.”
– J.J. Spaun, Valero Texas Open Winner