“I couldn’t be happier,” Kokrak said.
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The timing couldn’t be better. The CJ CUP moved from South Korea this year to Shadow Creek due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kokrak is an ambassador of MGM Resorts, which owns the prestigious Tom Fazio design.
“It feels like home,” Kokrak said. “I have played enough at this golf course that I know it now.”
Kokrak began to walk away with four straight birdies on the front nine, and the 20-foot and 18-foot bird putts to start the back nine stretched his lead to two strokes.
ScHotele responded with three birdies in a row, the latter a 45-footer using his putter from the thick neck of the 13th green to catch him. Then it was a question of who blinked first.
This turned out to be ScHotele on the 16th par-5, when he only managed to advance his shot from the deep left of the fairway only about 85 yards to rougher. Swaying with all his might, his third shot took off to the right to get rougher well below the green, and he made his only bogey in his round of 66.
Kokrak was also in the rough left, hacked towards the rough right and put his third shot into the bunker. But he splashed it out from just under 4 feet and pared for a one-shot lead, and ScHotele couldn’t catch up.
Kokrak, a 35-year-old from Ohio, nearly clinched it when he drilled his drive down the fairway on par 5 18, leaving only a short iron at 25 feet. He made two putts for his last birdie of a set that he won’t soon forget.
Russell Henley, who started the final round with a three-stroke lead, never got anything early and fell behind when he bugged the seventh par-5 and Kokrak was on his first set of birds.
Henley’s hopes ended on the 11th attainable par-4 when he drove down the green into thick rough and, facing a downhill chip, left it in the short court of the green and bogeyed over the second easiest hole to score in Shadow Creek. That put him four shots behind, and a late flurry of birds would never be enough.
He finished with a 70 and tied for third place with Tyrrell Hatton, who had just claimed a victory last week in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Hatton closed with a 65.
Kokrak played without a bogey on a course where trouble was never too far away. Justin Thomas, less than five shots from the lead, has two straight bogeys up front nine and three more in a four hole stretch in the back for a 74. Rory McIlroy was at least headed for a good finish up. that he has a pair of bogeys and two double bogeys on the last five holes for a 74.
To make matters even more difficult for Kokrak and Sc Chaudele, Jason Day, the third in their group, retired with a neck injury on the second hole. It meant a duet in the middle of a class full of threesomes and a lot of waiting. They were always playing at the highest level, with Kokrak delivering all the key putts.
Kokrak has earned 500 FedExCup points and is now fully exempt until the 2022-2023 season. He has also been admitted to THE PLAYERS Championship, Sentry of Champions in Hawaii, and 2021 Masters and PGA Championship.