After struggling with his game, Jason Kokrak finishes strong to win in Houston.
Jason Kokrak ended a volatile week with his third-career PGA Tour win on Sunday, capturing the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open by two strokes over Scottie Scheffler and Kevin Tway, but it came one day after narrowly making the cut and then five days after he considered withdrawing from the tournament.
Kokrak said he was hitting the ball so poorly during his practice round on Tuesday that he considered pulling out of the event.
“He was struggling big time, saying ‘I can’t play,’” swing coach Drew Steckel said.
Kokrak, however, said that he saw improvement during the pro-am on Wednesday and decided to forge on. After a 68 on Thursday, he struggled at the end of the second round, finishing with a triple-bogey on No. 18 to finish at 41 on the back nine, barely making the cut.
But a 66 in the third round on Saturday and a final-round 65, including a run of four-straight birdies from Nos. 13 to 16, was enough to come from behind to take the lead and the tournament win. After the 41 on the back nine in the second round, he shot it 10 strokes better on Sunday when it counted.
“My game was not in top form and I definitely made the best of it, made a lot of birdies, made a lot of nice putts,” Jason Kokrak said after the win. “The putter was hot this week. I just tried to hit the green or give myself a putter in hand to limit my mistakes.”
That putter got hot on the back nine on Sunday, as Jason Kokrak holed a 12-footer for birdie on 13 and followed that up with a 25-foot birdie putt on 14, which is the toughest hole at Memorial Park in Houston. His wedge on the 115-yard 15th did the trick, putting him within six feet of the cup for another birdie and a share of the lead. He then took the lead for good on No. 16 after another wedge shot put him within five feet of the hole for birdie 4 on the par-5 hole.
Kokrak parred the final two holes for a 10-under 270 on the tournament, winning his third PGA Tour event in just over a calendar year. The 36-year-old was winless over his first 232 starts before breaking through at The CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in October 2020. His best finish in the next 15 events was tied for eighth, but in the 16th, he won again, outdueling Jordan Spieth at the Charles Schawk Challenge to win his second title. The three wins ties him with Patrick Cantlay for the most PGA Tour victories since the start of the 2020-21 season.
He didn’t have another top 10 until the win this week, but he did finish tied for 11th at the season-ending Tour Championship. Jason Kokrak also had a rough start to the year, missing the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open before finishing 54th the following week at The CJ Cup at Summit. He then took four weeks off before returning this week in Houston.
Scheffler, coming off his win at the Ryder Cup and a fourth-place effort last week at the World Wide Technology Championship in Mexico, led at the turn on Sunday and had his long-awaited first-career win in his sights, but three bogeys in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 10-14, coupled with Kokrak’s hot run on the back nine, left him with 69 on the day and an 8-under 272 for the tournament.
The University of Texas graduate and Dallas resident will have to wait for that first win, but at age 25, it’s only a matter of when it will happen, collecting his 10th top-five finish on the tour despite any current frustrations over coming up short in Houston.
“I’ll take from this I felt like I played a lot of good golf this week without really my best stuff,” Scheffler said after his round on Sunday. “I really felt uncomfortable with my ball-striking going into the week, but I gave myself a chance to win here in the end—I put myself in position on Sunday. I’d say today, I just probably didn’t make enough putts. Outside of that, I definitely played good enough to win.”
Kevin Tway started play on Sunday in second and finished there after shooting a steady two-under 68 on Sunday. It’s his best finish and first top-10 since finishing tied for second at the QBE Shootout in December 2020.
Kramer Hickok tied for fourth at 7-under, followed by Martin Trainer and Joel Dahmen at -6 in fifth place. Trainer, who has one win on the PGA Tour—2019 in Puerto Rico—and also one top-25 finish, came in to this event having missed 16 of his last 17 cuts but led for a portion on Sunday before settling for a tie for fifth. Still, for the world’s 1,310-ranked player, that’s a great effort.
There was a four-way tie for seventh. Betting favorite going into the tournament, Sam Burns ended up with another top 10 after shooting a 67 on Sunday, jumping up 11 spots from round three. He continues to led the FedEx Cup standings after his third top 10 out of four starts this season, including a win at the Sanderson Farms Championship last month.
Robert Streb jumped up 27 positions to finish tied for seventh after a 65 on Sunday. That will give the 34-year-old some momentum going into The RSM Classic next week, where he is the defending champion.
The round of the day belonged to Denny McCarthy, who carded a 64 on Sunday to leap 39 spots to finish tied for 11th.
Matthew Wolff was also tied for 11th after a 2-over 72 on Sunday. It was a tough finish to the day, but the 22-year-old continues his strong fall campaign after a runner-up at the Shriners Children’s Open and a fifth last week at Mayakoba. He now sits at No. 6 in the FedEx Cup standings.
Next week’s event at Sea Island Resort in St. Simons Island, Georgia, is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, as December features the QBE Shootout and the Hero World Challenge, which are unofficial limited-field events.
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