Jason Kokrak had reason to believe he shot himself out of the Houston Open on the back nine Saturday morning. He played it 10 shots better when it counted on Sunday afternoon, making four straight birdies for a 5-under 65 and a two-shot victory.
Two shots behind with six holes to play, Kokrak delivered all the right shots to pull away from a fading Scottie Scheffler and Martin Trainer and win for the third time in the last 13 months.
“Very blessed to be standing here,” Kokrak said.
Kokrak couldn’t help but think back to Saturday morning, when he returned to complete the second round and went the other direction. He played seven holes in 7-over par for a 41 that left him 10 shots behind after 36 holes.
“I tried not to let that bug me,” Kokrak said. “I knew I was playing some fairly good golf. I was playing really good in spots and really bad in spots, so I just tried to limit my mistakes and kind of plot my way around the golf course. I just tried to hit the green or give myself a putter in hand to limit my mistakes. So that was the club that really saved me this week.”
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Kokrak holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 13th to get in the mix and then made a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th hole, the toughest at Memorial Park, to get within one shot. He hit wedge on the 115-yard 15th hole with a front pin to 6 feet to tie for the lead.
He had enough mud on his golf ball from rain earlier in the week that he chose to lay up on the par-5 16th, even though he could have reached with a mid-iron. Kokrak hit wedge to 5 feet for a fourth straight birdie.
By then, he was on his way and finished at 10-under 270.
Scheffler, going after his first PGA Tour victory, had a two-shot lead when he made the turn. He didn’t hit a green in regulation until the 15th, making three soft bogeys that left him too far behind to make a late run.
Scheffler had a long two-putt birdie on the 16th to get within three shots and nearly drove the green on the par-4 17th, only to hit a pedestrian chip and fail to make birdie. He birdied the final hole for a 69 and tied for second with Kevin Tway (68).
“I saw Jason made a little move there on the back nine. I just did my best to stay in it,” Scheffler said.
“I wasn’t swinging my best today on the back nine. Outside of that, I gave myself opportunities, just wasn’t able to hole enough putts. An odd break here or there that maybe goes my way and it’s a little different story.”
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Trainer, who made only his ninth cut in 71 starts since his victory in the 2019 Puerto Rico Open, took the lead on the 11th hole by rolling in a 70-foot birdie across the green, and then he calmly saved par with an 8-foot putt.
But he couldn’t make up ground on the some of the scoring holes, took a bogey on the 14th and then fell back for good with bogeys on his last two holes for a 70.
Matthew Wolff was among six players who had at least a share of the lead in opening hour, courtesy of five players being within one shot of Scheffler to start the final round.
He fell back with bogeys, and then made a hole-in-one with a 9-iron on the par-3 ninth to get back into the mix, but only briefly.
Kokrak went 232 starts on the PGA Tour before his first victory, and now has three in his last 27 starts dating to the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek north of Las Vegas a year ago in October. He also won at Colonial in the spring.
He moves to No. 22 in the world ranking.
He shot 41 on the back nine to complete his second round Saturday morning, when it was cold and “I really didn’t have my best stuff.” Kokrak was bogey-free and shot 31 on Sunday afternoon.
“I made some putts,” he said. “That’s what kept me in it.”