Vegas, baby! Another rookie wins on Tour as Kaufman cashes in
Two weeks into the new season, rookies are ruling the PGA Tour.
Smylie Kaufman became the second straight rookie to win Sunday when he closed with a 10-under 61 and then waited more than two hours to see if anyone could catch him in the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.
That felt tougher than any of the seven birdies and one eagle he made over the final 11 holes at the TPC Summerlin.
"I dodged a lot of bullets coming down the stretch with guys coming," Kaufman said after his one-shot victory. "So much more stressful than on the course. So much worse. I felt like I was watching an LSU football game."
Kevin Na played a role in both rookies winning.
Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open last week, and Na made it easier on him in the second playoff hole at Silverado by taking bogey on the par-5 18th.
This time, Na caught Kaufman with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, only to flub a chip just short of the par-3 17th and make bogey. His 15-foot birdie putt to force a playoff caught part of the right lip and kept going.
Kaufman, a 23-year-old from LSU, played the last four holes in 4 under. That included his 3-wood to 15 feet for eagle on the par-4 15th, and a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole that turned out to be the winner. He started the final round seven shots behind and finished at 16-under 268.
"I was just hitting it so good the last few days and just wanted to give myself a chance and post a number, and that’s what it came down to," Kaufman said.
Two other rookies, Brett Stegmaier (69) and Patton Kizzire (63), were part of a six-way tie for second.
Kaufman was on the range, on the phone, and in a tent watching nervously on TV over the final hour. Cameron Tringale (66) and Jason Bohn (66) each had birdie putts to force a playoff, with Bohn’s 40-foot attempt narrowly missing.
The last chance belonged to Stegmaier, whose putt down the slope from the fringe stopped a few inches short.
"It was pretty significantly downhill, so it was all speed," said Stegmaier, also making his fifth PGA Tour start. "I mean, if the speed was off, the line was going to be off. I was probably a foot in the fringe, so I probably just held up that extra foot. I like to die my putts in the hole, and sometimes you run the risk of leaving it short."
The victory sends Kaufman to Augusta National next April for the Masters. He also gets in the PGA Championship, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start the new year and The Players Championship.
"It’s unbelievable," Kaufman said. "If you would have told me I had a round at the Masters, if somebody was going to take me out and not completely with the Masters, just to play Augusta National, I would have freaked out. But now that I’m playing the Masters, it’s a joke. It’s unbelievable."
Na said he thought he could make his chip for birdie on the 17th except that it was sitting up on a patch of grass into the grain.
"And I just went under it," Na said. "And with the Bermuda into the grain, I don’t know what happened."
Kaufman, who tied for 10th in the Frys.com Open in his rookie debut, earned $1,1520,000. He spent a lot of his time waiting on the finish with Kizzire, a longtime friend from Birmingham, Alabama.
"He was keeping me calm, kind of cracking some jokes here and there," Kaufman said about Kizzire. "He actually made it a lot easier on me watching the finale."
Alex Cejka also tied for second after making a birdie on the 18th hole for a 66. William McGirt and Chad Campbell tied for eighth at 14 under. McGirt had a 62, going 9 under in a nine-hole stretch that ended with an eagle on the par-5 16th.
"I started off kind of sluggish," McGirt said, "but I kind of found something there with the putter on eight. … Starting where I started the day, to end up where I did, I’m tickled to death."
Campbell had a 68.
Rickie Fowler finished with a 68 to tie for 25th at 9 under. Jimmy Walker, playing alongside Na in the second-to-last group, had a 78 to fall into a tie for 50th at 4 under.
"It’s been a fun week," Fowler said. "It was nice being back. A lot of positives coming out of the golf side. Got some stuff to clean up, but definitely enjoyed it."