American Kokrak captures first US PGA victory at CJ Cup

Published October 19, 2020, 1:56 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

Jason Kokrak hits off the thirteen tee during the final round of the CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek on October 18, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP

Jason Kokrak reeled off six birdies in a seven-hole stretch Sunday on his way to winning the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and capture his first US PGA Tour triumph.

The 35-year-old American fired a final-round eight-under par 64 to finish 72 holes at the Las Vegas layout on 20-under 268 to defeat countryman Xander Schauffele by two strokes.

“Game plan was simple — hit fairways,” Kokrak said. “Gave myself more opportunities than I had the past couple days and I took advantage of them.”

World number 53 Kokrak was a three-time PGA runner-up — at the 2012 Open, the 2016 Northern Trust Open and the 2019 Valspar Championship — before the breakthrough victory in his 233rd career tour event, one moved from South Korea due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Finally got it done,” Kokrak said. “Couldn’t be happier. I did a good job of hitting the spots we were putting to. I’m happy with my putting. All the work we’ve been putting in has paid off.”

Kokrak made 14 putts from beyond 10 feet for the week, his most in any PGA start.

Eighth-ranked Schauffele, who shared second at last year’s Masters and last month’s Tour Championship, missed out on a fifth US PGA title.

Deadlocked for the lead at 19-under, playing partners Kokrak and Schauffele both drove into the left rough at the par-5 16th and each missed the green with his third shot.

Kokrak blasted out of a bunker and made a tense four-foot par put while Schauffele made a six-footer to salvage bogey and fall one adrift of Kokrak.

“That was nice,” Kokrak said. “My bunker game has really improved lately.”

At the par-3 17th, Schauffele holed a five-footer for par to stay one back of Kokrak heading to the par-5 18th, a hole Schauffele birdied in two of the three prior rounds.

Kokrak blasted his drive 342 yards into the fairway and used a pitching wedge to drop his ball just inside 27 feet from the cup. Schauffele missed a 10-foot birdie putt while Kokrak two-putted for birdie.

“It was a nice duel between the two of us,” Kokrak said. “We brought out the best in each other.”

When Russell Henley could not manage a miracle albatross in the final group behind him, Kokrak had his long-sought victory.

Henley and England’s Russell Hatton shared third on 271 with American Talor Gooch fifth on 272.

Kokrak, who began the day three adrift from leader Henley, sank a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-4 second hole but began his run to the lead with a birdie from just inside 10 feet at the par-3 fifth.

Birdies putts from seven and five feet followed on the next two holes before he holed a 17-footer at the par-3 eighth and parred to close the front nine.

Kokrak started the back nine with back-to-back birdies from 20 feet and 17 feet to reach 19-under par.

Schauffele then began a run of three straight birdie putts by making a seven-footer at 11. He added a five-footer at 12 and rolled in an epic effort from 46 feet at the par-3 13th to match Kokrak for the lead at 19-under, setting up the closing drama.

Australia’s Jason Day, who would have played alongside Kokrak and Schauffele, withdrew before after a triple-bogey start Sunday with a neck injury.