Experience, familiar surroundings, and a blazing-hot putter made the difference for Kevin Na, as the 36-year-old won the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open, his fourth career PGA Tour victory, ousting world No. 7 Patrick Cantlay on the second playoff hole at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.
Sunday was a showcase of resiliency for Na, a Vegas resident, who came into Sunday with a two-stroke lead after an unconscious 62-61 stretch in rounds 2 and 3. Playing THAT well three days in a row is unheard of on the PGA Tour, but Na was looking pretty solid again at 2-under through 7 holes, building what he later called a “comfortable” three-stroke lead.
Then, No. 10 happened.
Chipping difficulties around the slippery 10th green led to a triple-bogey, that dropped his lead to just one. He steadied himself with birdies on Nos. 12, 13, and 15, but after sending his second shot on the par-5 16th into the water, a bogey, coupled with a Cantlay birdie on the same hole, left Na one stroke behind with two to play.
The 17th hole was defined by both luck and skill for Na. He was fortunate that Cantlay took an unnecessarily aggressive approach shot that landed in the water, leading to a bogey. Na had not played his second much better, but eventually sunk a clutch 22-foot par putt to re-tie the lead.
Both Na and Cantlay parred the 18th hole to force a playoff. Going back to 18, Na birdied, but so did Cantlay. On the second playoff hole, the third consecutive go at the 18th hole, putting turned out to be the difference. Cantlay three-putted, missing a 5’7” inch putt that would have extended the playoff. Na calmly knocked in his four-footer for the win.
It would be a massive understatement to say that Na had the putting week of his life: he put together one of the greatest putting showcases the PGA Tour has ever seen. Na made a ridiculous 558 feet of putts on the week, the most in the history of the Tour, at least since shotlink data began 16 years ago.
Na was extremely emotional after his round, referring to himself as a fighter, citing both his back-nine comeback, and his poor playoff record. This was the fourth time Na has been in a PGA Tour playoff, but the first time he has emerged victorious.
In addition, Na gave a lengthy message in Korean in his post-round interview, expressing frustration over what he called “false rumors” regarding a controversial appearance on a television program in his native South Korea.
Late Sunday essentially became match play between Na and Cantlay, but Pat Perez kept himself in the picture most of the day, shooting a three-under 68 to finish in solo-third, two strokes behind the playoff participants.
Final Top-5 Finishers
Pos-Name-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Kevin Na -23 (-1)
2. Patrick Cantlay -23 (-3)
3. Pat Perez -21 (-3)
4. Bryson DeChambeau -20 (-8)
4. Adam Hadwin -20 (-8)
4. Brian Stuard -20 (-4)
7. Webb Simpson -19
9. Tony Finau -18
13. Ryan Moore -17
16. Hideki Matsuama -16
42. Adam Scott -12
55. Gary Woodland -10
55. Jim Furyk -10
61. Phil Mickelson -9
How Kevin Na Won The Shriners Hospitals For Children Open
One word: putting.
Well, putting was not the only thing Na did at least competently, but it was such a spectacular performance on the greens that it overshadowed everything else he did. Na gained an insane 14 strokes putting for the week.
Na’s putting was so good that he won the event, and finished first in strokes gained: total, despite finishing outside the top 70(!) in strokes gained: off-the-tee (94th), around-the-green (82nd), and tee-to-green (71st).
Na’s 26 birdies was third in the field for the week, and he had only five holes of bogey or worse, with three of them coming on Sunday.
Na’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 315.5 yards (51st)
Fairways: 40/56, 71.43% (43rd)
Greens: 54/72, 75.0% (46th)
Putts/GIR: 81/1.500 (1st)
Scores: 26 Birdies, 39 Pars, 4 Bogeys, 1 Triple Bogey
Off The Tee: -0.824 (94th)
Approach To Green: 1.285 (47th)
Around The Green: -0.136 (82nd)
Putting: 14.176 (1st)
Tee To Green: -0.084 (71st)
Total: 14.091 (1st)
What It Means For Na
Na had won just once in his first 369 Tour events: this very same event in 2011. It would be seven years since he would win again, but Na now has three victories in his last 30 starts, including one in each of the past three seasons. He is quickly becoming known for a lot more than just his agonizingly slow play.
Na came into the week ranked 40th in the world, and will move to No. 24 – his highest ranking since early in the 2016 season. His highest career best ranking was 19th, which he reached early in the 2015 season.
A year ago, Na posted three top-10s in 19 starts, including a victory at May’s Charles Schwab Classic, although he failed to reach the final event of the FedExCup Playoffs.
Na’s 2019-20 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 2
Wins: 1 (Shriners)
Earnings: $1,389375 (2)
FedExCup Pts: 553 (2)
World Rank Before/After: 40/24
Bryson DeChambeau arrived at TPC Summerlin as the defending champion, having also clipped Cantlay by one stroke a year ago. The controversial 26-year-old DeChambeau has not won on Tour since, but threw himself into the mix with a stellar 8-under 63, which included four consecutive back-nine birdies.
The world No. 10 finished in a share of fourth place, despite not ranking in the top 10 in a single strokes gained category. It was his first top 10 since early July, and just his third in his last 21 starts.
Tying DeChambeau for the low round of Sunday was the diminutive Canadian Adam Hadwin, who went bogey free in round 4 to also finish T4 for the week. The fourth place finish comes off the heels of a runner-up performance at last week’s Safeway Open.
Hadwin, a 59-club member, tends to be streaky, and is definitely a player to watch in the coming weeks.
DeChambeau and Hadwin both moved 17 spots up the final leaderboard, but the biggest jumper on Sunday was Matthew Wolff, the shocking winner of last July’s inaugural 3M Open. The precocious 20-year-old birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot a 6-under 65, propelling 33 spots up the Sunday leaderboard into a share of 18th place, his second best finish in his young Tour career.
Wolff’s iron game was not clicking in Vegas, but he finished second in the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee.
Scoring was very low in Las Vegas on Sunday, but not everyone was able to get into the red-scoring action. At 17-under through three rounds, Sam Ryder was in fourth place and had a prayer at five strokes off Na’s lead.
Unfortunately for the 29-year-old, who has not placed in the top 10 of a Tour event since finishing solo-third in this event a year ago, Ryder was only able to finish below par on two Sunday holes, on his way to a comparatively abysmal 2-over 73, which dropped him all the way down to T18.
Collin Morikawa, the 22-year-old prodigy, has been one of the hottest golfers on the planet since bursting onto the scene with a T2-T4-WIN stretch in July looked shockingly mortal on Sunday at TPC Summerlin.
After 20 birdies over the first three rounds, a disastrous Sunday short game led to just three in round 4, as Morikawa shot a 1-over 72 and dropped 27 spots down the leaderboard, finishing T42.
The biggest Sunday leaderboard drop came from one of the biggest names in the field: former world No. 1 and Masters Champion Adam Scott. Coming off a season where he performed exceptionally in the majors, Scott was at a loss with his game in Vegas on Sunday.
Even with a four-hole stretch on the back-nine where he carded two birdies and an eagle, Scott was still only able to manage a 3-over 74. The Aussie plummeted 34 spots down the Sunday leaderboard, finishing in a share of 42nd place.
Phil’s Final Round
Few question whether Phil Mickelson is one of the best to ever play the game: his 43 PGA Tour victories and 5 majors give a resounding answer, but the career of the extremely popular 49-year-old has been in an absolute tailspin since winning last February’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, as he came into the week with only finish of better than 37th in his last 17 starts.
He opened the 2020 season with a missed cut at the Safeway Open, and while a 61st place finish this week in Las Vegas does not exactly make him appear out of his funk, it was his most encouraging performance in months.
Mickelson opened the Shriners with a 6-under 65, and was just three off the lead going into Saturday. However, a dismal 3-over 74 on Saturday obliterated his standing. He was much better on Sunday, carding six birdies on his way to a 4-under 67 that left him at a respectable 9-under for the week.
Mickelson called it a “good start on the process”. He will tee up again in two weeks at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea.
Younger Koepka Has a Brooks-esque Finish
Chase Koepka has a popular last name, which has undoubtedly opened some doors in his PGA Tour golf career, but it is also undoubtedly difficult living in the shadow of his famous brother, world No. 1 and four-time major champion Brooks Koepka.
Chase, ranked 1822nd in the world coming into the week, has made most of his earnings overseas, only having teed up in a handful of PGA Tour events, and only making the cut at team events where he and Brooks were together.
However, at least for one week, the younger Koepka has the bragging rights. In the field on a sponsor’s exemption (one of the doors his last name has opened), Chase used an opening bogey-free, 5-under 67 to make the cut, while Brooks missed the cut entirely. Chase came back to earth in the third round with a 4-over 75 that caused him to plummet to 74th place on the leaderboard, but what he was able to do on Sunday was remarkable.
After stumbling out of the gates with a bogey-double bogey stretch on Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, Koepka was 3-over through 10 holes and back to even-par for the week. Then he exploded for four birdies and an eagle over his final eight holes to finish with a 3-under par 68.
A 67th place finish will not make anyone question who the better brother is, but make no mistake, people will take note of how much skill Chase showed on Sunday’s back nine. He may be heard again on the PGA Tour.
“Experience. I’ve been in that position before where I’ve lost the lead, and I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost three playoffs; this was my first playoff win, and I knew, I kept telling myself ‘this is the playoff I’m going to win’, and it felt great to win.”
– Kevin Na