Jason Kokrak outduels Xander Schauffele in dramatic CJ Cup finish
Through 15 holes, there was no daylight between them. Xander Schauffele and Jason Kokrak had battled to a tie at Shadow Creek, each 7 under par for his final round, 19 under par for the tournament. But it was Kokrak who took the reins, holding steady with two pars and a birdie to finish and clinch his first-ever PGA Tour win in the process.
In the end, it was the two closing par-5s that made the difference. Schauffele and Kokrak each found trouble off the 16th tee, a behemoth of a hole, and each punched out, then missed the green to the right. Golf is a game of misses, even when you’re 7 under for the day and tied for the PGA Tour lead, and Kokrak’s was a more recoverable miss; he splashed his bunker shot inside 4 feet while Schauffele battled to make bogey.
After the two traded pars on 17, Kokrak stepped up to the 18th tee and striped a drive 342 yards down the fairway at the risk-reward finisher, effectively turning a par-5 into a par-4.
Schauffele, likely needing a look at eagle to force a playoff, missed the fairway to the left. While he hit a solid approach from there to the rough just over the green, his eagle chip ran out of gas some 10 feet short of the hole.
All that was left was Kokrak finding solid ground, and he did just that, flying a short iron pin-high and leaving himself less than 30 feet for eagle. When Schauffele missed his own birdie try, it took the pressure off Kokrak’s 3-footer, and no problem: he buried it for a two-shot win.
After the round, Schauffele had nothing but praise for his opponent.
“Him and his caddie have a really good relationship, they work really well,” Schauffele said of Kokrak. “He just — he beats the crap out of it. Like I said, he’s a foot taller than I am, swings it Ernie Els smooth-type swing. I couldn’t be happier for him. I think what proved was he finally started rolling in some putts and it kind of shows how dangerous he can be out here.”
For 35-year-old Kokrak, the win must have been emotional; it’s his first in nine years and 232 starts on Tour. Still, he made it all sound rather matter-of-fact afterwards.
“The game plan was simple: to hit fairways,” he said after the round. He did that, and claimed his caddie took care of the rest, guiding him around Shadow Creek’s slippery greens.
Whatever the formula, it added up to an 8-under 64 and a career-changing win in Las Vegas. “Very pleased with the win,” he said, typically understated. “And hopefully more to come.”