After 10 years and 232 starts, Kokrak picks a winner’s cheque at CJ Cup

Jason Kokrak. Pic: Getty Images

Oct 19: American Jason Kokrak playing in his 10th season finally went past being No. 2 on three previous occasions to grab his maiden PGA Tour win as he beat Xander Schauffele to claim a two-stroke victory at THE CJ CUP @ Shadow Creek in Vegas, Nevada on Sunday.

Opening the final round three shots behind overnight leader Russell Henley, the 35-year-old Kokrak produced a bogey free 64 to win on his 233rd start on Tour and it came at the lucrative US$9.75 million tournament featuring 25 players from the top-30 of last season’s FedExCup standings and included six from the world’s top-10.

The win earns Kokrak earned an exemption through to 2022-23, besides entry to the Augusta Masters and the PGA Championship and the Sentry Champions and the PLAYERS.

Kokrak totalled 20-under 268 with eight birdies on 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 18 to hold off playing partner Schauffele (66) who was chasing his fifth TOUR title. Schauffele was in the battle till the bogey on Par-5 16th and that ruined his chance and Kokrak seized on it with a closing birdie on the last.

Henley finished T-3rd after a 70 alongside England’s in-form Tyrrell Hatton (65) who jetted from UK after winning the BMW PGA last Sunday.

Defending champion Justin Thomas looking for a third win at CJ Cup shot a disappointing 74 for T-12.

The two-time FedExCup winner Rory McIlroy settled for tied 21st on 282 after a closing 74. Brooks Koepka, the 2018 CJ CUP winner and making a comeback from injury this week after a two-month layoff, shot a 73 to finish T28 on 283.

Of Kokrak’s three previous runner-up finishes, the latest was the 2019 Valspar Championship. On Sunday he did little wrong as he hit 12 fairways and 17 greens in regulation and putted like a dream.

For Kokrak, who is a Brand Ambassador of MGM Resorts, who own the Tom Fazio-designed course. So, he knew the course better than most in the field as the event moved from South Korea to Shadow Creek this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It feels like home,” Kokrak said. “I’ve played this golf course enough that I should know it by now.”

Kokrak and Schauffele were reduced to a two-ball, as Jason Day, the third in their group, withdrew with a neck injury on the second hole. So, there was some waiting at times as all others were three-ball groups.

He said, “The game plan was simple, to hit fairways. My caddie, D Rob (David Robinson) was right on point with the reads all day, all week and I’ll just give myself more opportunities than I did the last couple days. They were out there. I made some nice putts on the front nine and a couple par saves here and there, but I couldn’t be happier.”

Giving his caddie a lot of credit, Kokrak said, “I mean, his (Robinson) golf knowledge and his golf IQ is off the charts. I give him a lot of respect. He’s even keeled, he knows what to say in the right moments and he’s probably one of the best green readers out on this TOUR. I’ve been with him for about three and a half years now. I went through a few different caddies and I called David. I said, I think if I can handle the ball striking, you can help me out a little bit around the greens, I think it will be a pretty dangerous duo. We’ve played pretty solid the last couple years, I think 50 or 60 on the FedExCup, 14th and then 42nd. Hopefully to do a little bit better in the future down the road.”

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