A crowd overwhelming rooting for his playing partner, PGA Tour veteran Jason Kokrak was able to overcome the elements at the Charles Schwab Challenge, winning the long-running event by two strokes over a recently-resurgent Jordan Spieth.
Each edition of the Charles Schwab Challenge has been held at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, especially significant to this year’s tournament, given that Spieth is a Dallas native and easy crowd favorite.
Spieth, the 2016 champion by three strokes, held a one-stroke lead going into the final round. Coming into the week, Spieth had posted top 10s in seven of his last ten starts, with the most notable of those being a victory at the Valero Texas Open that ended a four-year winless drought. The closest final round competitor to Speith and Kokrak was five strokes behind, which set the stage for an old-style Texas duel.
Early on, neither Kokrak nor Spieth appeared especially up to the challenge. Kokrak bogeyed the par-5 opening hole, and added another on the par-3 4th. Fortunately for the 36-year-old Ontario, Canada native, Spieth started even worse, with bogeys on 2, 3, and 4, which had the two tied atop the leaderboard through four. In addition, it brought a number of other players into the mix, with the closest being just three back with 14 holes still to play.
Just as they seemed to struggle together, the two were able to get on track mid-way through their front nines. Kokrak birdied the fifth to take the solo-lead, and added another on six, while Spieth also birdied the sixth. At the turn, the duo was back at 14-under, with no other serious contenders.
Both Kokrak and Spieth played their back nines in even par, but did so in different ways. While Spieth stagnated, fighting his swing and frequently expressing his frustration, Kokrak birdied 11 and 13 to take a two-stroke lead. With four holes to go, Kokrak then became a little unraveled. A three-putt bogey on the par-4 15th was his first back-nine blemish. However, Spieth was unable to take advantage, bogeying the same hole after a poor approach.
Momentum finally appeared to be shifting on the par-3 16th. Both hit their tee shots into greenside bunkers, but while Spieth had a brilliant save to three feet, Kokrak hit a mediocre bunker shot (although amazing compared to his two earlier bunker shots that did not even escape the sand) ten feet past the hole, and missed his par while Spieth sunk his. Kokrak’s lead was down to one with two holes to play.
Both then parred the par-4 17th, putting the pressure on Spieth to make something happen on the par-4 18th. And something did happen. After hitting his drive into a difficult lie in the primary rough, Spieth knocked his approach into the water off the left edge of the green, essentially sealing the tournament for Kokrak.
A Spieth bogey combined with a Kokrak par, meant a two-stroke win for Kokrak, making him the third two-time Tour winner on the season. He also won last October’s The CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek. He failed to win any events over his first nine full-time seasons, thrice finishing as a runner-up. Kokrak’s Sunday tally was an even-par 70, three strokes better than Spieth’s final round.
For the 27-year-old Spieth, it was the third time he has finished runner-up at Colonial. After winning came so easy to him early in his career, he has had to re-learn how to play with the lead. He has squandered several Sunday leads on the season, but the results are much, much better than they were a year ago, where his best finish was a T8 in his first season start. A 12-time Tour winner (three major championships), he is 10-for-20 in his career at closing 54-hole leads.
Finishing four strokes back of Kokrak, a Xavier University product, at 10-under was a group of four: Charley Hoffman, Patton Kizzire, Sebastian Munoz, and Ian Poulter. All four were multiple strokes under par on the final day.
Charles Schwab Challenge: Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Jason Kokrak -14 (E)
2. Jordan Spieth -12 (+3)
3. Charley Hoffman -10 (-5)
3. Patton Kizzire -10 (-3)
3. Ian Poulter -10 (-2)
3. Sebastian Munoz -10 (-2)
7. Troy Merritt -7 (-5)
8. Emiliano Grillo -6 (-2)
8. Lucas Glover -6 (-2)
8. Adam Hadwin -6 (E)
8. Brian Harman -6 (E)
8. Brendon Todd -6 (+1)
How Jason Kokrak Won The Charles Schwab Challenge
Kokrak had a stretch from late-February to mid-March where he posted three consecutive top-10 finishes, but had not been especially stellar since. He finished in 49th place at The Masters, and after a final-round 77 at Kiawah Island last week, he posted a T49 at the PGA Championship. He appeared comfortable from the start at Colonial, though, with rounds of 65, 65, and 66 respectively, before his final-round 70.
His 23 birdies led the field for the week. He had nine bogeys, with five of those in his final round. Kokrak also led the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee and driving distance, and was second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and greens in regulation.
Hitting 11 fairways in both of his weekend rounds, he was fifth in the field in driving accuracy.
Kokrak’s best club on the season has been his putter, as he ranks 6th on Tour in strokes gained: putting. That continued to be a strength for him this week at Colonial, where he finished seventh in that same statistic, with a 5.5 stroke advantage on the field for the week.
What Winning Means For Jason Kokrak
It is both Kokrak’s second career victory, and the second victory of his breakout year. What would appear to be next for him is contending at a bigger event.
Despite being in his 10th full-time Tour season, he has qualified for just 16 career majors, with a high finish of T17 at the 2020 U.S. Open. A T9 at this year’s PLAYERS Championship has to be considered a step in the right direction, however.
He is sitting out next week’s The Memorial Tournament, but is hoping his win today will give him momentum going into next month’s U.S. Open.
The tremendous recent play of 44-year-old Charley Hoffman continued Sunday at Colonial. The UNLV product who battled Spieth until the end at the Valero Texas Open, shot a co-field low 5-under 65 to jump 14 spots from T17 to T3.
It was his fifth straight result of 18th or better, after having just four such starts in the entire 2020 season. His second-round 62 was the low round in the entire field for the week (he shot 71, 73 in his other two).
Tying that 65 was Troy Merritt, who went bogey-free with four birdies over his final six holes. He rocketed 27 spots up the final leaderboard into solo-7th, his second top 10 in his last three starts (his only two top-10s of the season). The high finish jumped him from 116th to 98th in the FedExCup standings, giving him some important cushion as he tries to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Another Sunday, another low round for Abraham Ancer. Two weeks ago, the 30-year-old Mexican shot a final-round field-low 66 to finish runner-up to Rory McIlroy at the Wells Fargo Championship. Starting the final round in 58th place at last week’s PGA Championship, Ancer shot a field-low 7-under 65 to backdoor a top-10 finish (T8).
This week? His Sunday 3-under 67 was only tied for the third-lowest round in the field, but it was good enough to jump him 20 spots into a share of 14th place. Still looking for his first career Tour victory, Ancer posted his 10th straight finish of T26 or better, with each of the last five being inside the top 18.
As disappointing as Spieth’s Sunday was, the big dud of the day was the 6-over 76 posted by 11-time Tour winner Sergio Garcia. The 41-year-old was at 10-under through three rounds, which had him in solo-third and easily the biggest threat to Kokrak/Spieth, but he was a disaster early, carding two 6s in his first three holes, one on a par-5 and one on a par-4, and had just a single birdie for the day.
The poor finish dropped him from T3 to T20. He held the opening-round lead after a 7-under 63.
Two strokes back of Sergio’s 18-hole lead was two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, but similar to Sergio, he struggled on the final day, shooting a 3-over 73 to drop from T6 into that big tie for 20th.
Compton, who finished runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Open, was playing in just his fourth Tour event since the 2016 season. Of those four starts, this was the only one where he made the cut.
Also dropping into that tie for 20th was Tony Finau, who is showing lately that he does not need to be in contention to struggle on Sunday. He shot a 2-over 72 after starting the day in ninth place. Finau, who boasts the Tour’s fifth-best scoring average, was T8 at last week’s PGA Championship, his ninth top 10 in a major (without a win) over the past four seasons.
Sunday’s biggest drop, by far, came courtesy of Sung Kang, who plummeted 45 spots from T17 to T62 after an 8-over 78, which was the second-worst score in the Sunday field. All eight of those lost strokes occurred between the 5th and 13th holes.
“Yeah, they were definitely rooting for the guy next to me. Jordan… we had kind of an ebb and flow. We both didn’t have our ‘A’ games today, but grinded it out, DRob [his caddie] kept me patient, didn’t finish the way I really wanted to, but still got the win, and I’m happy to be standing here.”
– Jason Kokrak, Charles Schwab Challenge Winner