And THAT is how you play with a lead!
Beginning the final round of the Charles Schwab Challenge with a vulnerable two-stroke advantage, Kevin Na put on a clinic in staying out front, carding six birdies as part of a 4-under 66 to win by four strokes over Tony Finau at famed Colonial Country Club.
That 66 tied for the second-best score out of 73 players in the Sunday field. Na showed nothing resembling nerves out of the gate, notching three birdies in his first six holes, staying steady mid-round, and leaving little doubt down the stretch by playing his final eight holes in bogey-free 2-under.
Na’s 2019 season had been a bit up-and-down, but with his triumph at Colonial, he now has three wins for his career, including two in the past year. The 35-year-old’s previous two victories were at the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals For Children Open and the 2018 A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
As amazing of a week as Na had in Fort Worth, Texas, the man who may end up being remembered as the big winner of the week is Kenny Harms. A former caddy for the legendary Hale Irwin, Harms, the man on Na’s bag for the past 11 years, was gifted the envy-inducing 1973 Dodge Challenger that Na had been awarded in addition to his monetary winnings. At the very least, it likely did a lot for the public perception of Na, who has been most well-known for being one of professional golf’s slowest players.
In a tournament largely defined by the glut of top players who performed poorly and/or missed the cut entirely, two players who finished highly are now facing further negative questions regarding the state of their games. With yet another high non-winning finish, Finau continued to cement his status as perhaps the biggest bridesmaid on Tour, while Jordan Spieth dropped from T2 to T8 after a Sunday collapse, his third consecutive event where he struggled badly when he had a chance to win.
Charles Schwab Challenge Leaderboard
Final Top 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Kevin Na -13 (-4)
2. Tony Finau -9 (-2)
3. Andrew Putnam -8 (-4)
3. C.T. Pan -8 (-1)
5. Jonas Blixt -7 (-2)
6. Rory Sabbatini -6 (-3)
6. Ryan Palmer -6 (-1)
8. Russell Knox -5 (-5)
8. Tyrrell Hatton -5 (-1)
8. Nick Watney -5 (E)
8. Jordan Spieth -5 (+2)
8. Mackenzie Hughes -5 (+2)
13. Charley Hoffman -4
13. Jim Furyk -4
17. Matt Every -3
19. Brandt Snedeker -2
19. Jimmy Walker -2
19. Billy Horschel -2
27. Max Homa -1
31. Corey Conners +1
31. David Toms +1
40. Martin Kaymer +2
40. Jason Dufner +2
48. Aaron Baddeley +3
53. Branden Grace +4
53. Francesco Molinari +4
53. Daniel Berger +4
58. Justin Rose +5
70. Ian Poulter +9
How Kevin Na Won the Charles Schwab Challenge
Na did the majority of damage for the week when he shot an immaculate 8-under 62 in the second round, an amount further under par that only one other player broke for the entire week, but given the circumstances, what he did on Sunday was even more impressive.
Low scores are difficult to come by at Colonial, so when Na played his first six holes in 3-under, he did a great deal to separate himself on a leaderboard that had been congested after 54-holes.
When he carded a bogey on No. 7, Finau was able to get within two strokes of the lead, but Na immediately birded the par-3 8th. The event seemed to turn back to a two-man race between Na and Finau after Na bogeyed the par-5 10th, but that would be the final blemish on Na’s scorecard, while Finau was unable to make anything happen on the back-nine. With about three holes to play, the tournament appeared completely wrapped-up. There was very little pressure when Na birdied the final hole to officially lock up the victory.
For the week, Na carded the second-most birdies in the field while posting the fewest bogeys. He led the field for the week in strokes gained: approach-the-green and greens in regulation, while finishing second in strokes gained: putting and strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Na’s Winning Numbers
Driving: 291.5 yards (58th)
Fairways: 34/56, 60.7% (18th)
Greens: 56/72, 77.8% (1st)
Putts Per GIR: 1.679 (5th)
Par-3: -4 (5 Birdies, 10 Pars, 1 Bogey)
Par-4: -8 (11 Birdies, 34 Pars, 3 Bogeys)
Par-5: -1 (1 Eagle, 1 Birdie, 5 Pars, 1 Double)
Total: -13 (1 Eagle, 17 Birdies, 44 Pars, 10 Bogeys, 1 Double)
What It Means For Na
Na is officially on a hot streak. He has just three top-10s in 15 starts on the season, but all three have come in his last six starts, kick-started by an impressive T5 at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in late March, where he advanced from a difficult group and then knocked off then World No. 2 Justin Rose in the round of 16.
Na began the week at No. 52 in the world rankings, and now moves up to No. 30, his highest ranking since he held the same spot after finishing solo-7th at the 2016 U.S. Open. He also moves well-up the FedExCup Standings, giving himself an excellent shot at reaching the Tour Championship for the 7th time, a number eclipsed by fewer than six players on Tour.
Kevin Na’ 2019 PGA Tour Season
Missed Cuts: 3
Wins: 1 (Chas Schwab Challenge)
Top 10s/20s: 1/1
Money Earned: $2,170,382 (27th)
FedExCup Pts: 802 (27th)
World Rank Before/After: 52/30
For a large part of the day, Tony Finau was the only player who appeared to be a serious challenger to Na, but he struggled on the back-nine, carding seven pars to one bogey in the stretch from holes 10-17.
While a runner-up finish is hardly terrible, it represents yet another non-winning week for Finau, whose only PGA Tour victory was at the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open in 2016. Finau also finished runner-up at The Masters last month, and had three second-place finishes among 11 top-10s in his 2018 PGA Tour season.
Over the past three years, Finau has finished inside the top-10 22 times without a victory. The player with the second-most over that span is Tommy Fleetwood with 13 (credit Justin Ray from the15thclub.com).
The 29-year-old bomber is clearly very talented, but he is justifiably having to answer questions about his inability to break through in these events.
State of Spieth: What to Make of His Sunday
At last week’s PGA Championship, Jordan Spieth finished T3, which looks excellent when juxtaposed with the rest of his 2019 results, which had not featured anything else inside the top 20, but it was somewhat discouraging that he played so poorly on the weekend, particularly on Saturday, when he had played well enough to reach the final pairing with Brooks Koepka.
He shot a 2-over 72 to essentially end any championship hopes. This came the week after Spieth had gotten himself in contention at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but plummeted down the leaderboard with one of the worst Sundays in the field.
Sunday at Colonial ended up being more of the same. Spieth was in a tie for second going into the final round, just two strokes off Na’s lead, but he was abysmal on Sunday, failing to card a single birdie over his first 17 holes. A birdie on 18 moved him just inside the top 10.
Recently, the three-time major champion looks closer to the player who was among the Tour’s best over the past five years than the player who has slumped badly over the past 12 months, but it is troubling that he is still struggling so badly to put four rounds together, especially when he gets into contention.
Na’s 66 was matched by just one player in the Sunday field: Andrew Putnam.
Putnam got off to a blazing start with four birdies over his first seven holes, and he looked like he could be a big challenger to Na if he could keep it going. Bogeys on 9 and 11 took him off the pace, but with birdies on 15 and 16 he was able to finish T3, his first top-30 finish since he was runner-up at the Sony Open in Hawaii in the second week of January.
The only man to post a better round than Na and Putnam on Sunday was Russell Knox, who did one better with a 5-under 65. Knox was bogey-free on Sunday, which allowed him to finish 5-under for the week, and jump 23 spots up the final leaderboard into a tie for 8th, his best finish of a 2019 season where he has just two top 10s in 17 starts.
A 3-under 67 was good enough to get Rory Sabbatini into a tie for 6th place, his fourth top-10 in his last five starts. The 43-year-old is in the midst of easily his best season since 2011, the last year he won on Tour.
49-year-old Jim Furyk suddenly got red-hot in March, a stretch of play highlighted by a solo runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy at THE PLAYERS Championship, but he had hit the wall as of late, missing the cut in his last three starts coming into the week.
His performance at the Charles Schwab Challenge was something of a microcosm of that. With three under-par rounds, Furyk was in second place and just two off the 54-hole lead, but Sunday ended up being a struggle, or at least the back-nine was.
After playing the front-nine in a bogey-free 1-under, Furyk went bogey-double-bogey from 12-14. He finished with a 3-over 73, dropping him into a tie for 13th.
Jason Dufner continued his rapid descent down the weekend leaderboard on Sunday with a 5-over 75. He was well in contention after opening the event with rounds of 67-68, but a 72-75 weekend meant a mediocre T40 finish. Sadly, that T40 is still his third-best finish in 19 starts this season.
Matching Dufner’s 75 was Ian Poulter, who finished a disappointing week with a finish of 70th. Starting the week at No. 29 in the world rankings, Poulter had 18 holes this week where he carded bogey or worse.
“Oh, wow, that car is beautiful. Saw that car. I knew about it before I got here. Months in advance they said they’re giving a ’73 dodge, this old classic that’s, you know, refurbished and it’s beautiful.
“I don’t know how my caddie convinced me to give him the car, but he’s a good salesman I guess. He sold me into it.
“But I’m more than happy to give it to him. He deserves it. I got something cooler right here.”
– Kevin Na, Charles Schwab Challenge Champion
Final Scores, Money & Points
Charles Schwab Challenge | Colonial CC | Fort Worth, TX | May 23-26, 2019