HOUSTON – Jason Kokrak had reason to believe he shot himself out of the Houston Open at the back nine Saturday morning. He played it 10 shots better when it counted Sunday afternoon, making four straight birdies a 5-under 65 and a two-shot win.
Two shots behind with six holes left 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 stand here,” said Kokrak.
Kokrak could not help but think back to Saturday morning, when he returned to complete the second round and went the other way. He played seven holes in 7-over par for a 41 that left him 10 shots after 36 holes.
“I tried not to let it bother me,” Kokrak said. “I knew I was playing pretty good golf. I was playing really well in spots and really bad in spots, so I was just trying to limit my mistakes and somehow plot myself around the golf course. I was just trying to hit the green or give myself even a putter in hand to limit my mistakes.
“So it was the club that really saved me this week.”
What a turnaround this Sunday.
Kokrak hit 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 hardest in Memorial Park, to get within one stroke. He hit the wedge on the 115-yard 15th hole with a 6-foot front stick to secure the lead.
He had enough mud on his golf ball from rain earlier in the week that he chose to lay up on par-5 16. even though he could have reached with a mid-iron. Kokrak hit the wedge to 5 feet for a fourth birdie in a row.
At that point, he was on his way and finished at 10 under 270.
Scheffler, who went after his first PGA Tour victory, had a two-shot lead as he made the turn. He did not 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 at 16. to get within three shots and ran almost green at par-4 17., only to hit a pedestrian chip and fail to make a birdie. He birdied the final hole with a 69 and finished second with Kevin Tway (68).
“I saw Jason make a little move there on the back nine. I was just doing my best to stay in it,” Scheffler said. “I did not swing my best today on the back nine. Other than that I gave myself opportunities, just was not able to make enough putts. A strange break here or there that might go my way and that is a a little different story. ”
The coach, who only made his ninth cut in 71 starts since winning the 2019 Puerto Rico Open, took the lead on the 11th hole by rolling a 70-foot birdie over the green, and then he calmly saved par with an 8-foot putt.
But he could not catch up on the ground on some of the scoring holes, took a bogey on the 14th and then fell back forever with bogeys on his last two holes to a 70.
Matthew Wolff was among six players who had at least a share of the lead in opening time, thanks to five players who were within a shot from Scheffler to start the final round.
He fell back with bogeys and then made a hole-in-one with a 9-iron on par-3 ninth to get back into the mix, but only briefly.
Kokrak went 232 starts on the PGA Tour before his first win, and now has three in his last 27 starts dating for the CJ Cup in Shadow Creek north of Las Vegas a year ago in October. He also won in the Colonial this spring.
He moves up to No. 22 on the world rankings.
He shot 41 on the back nine to complete his second round Saturday morning when it was cold and “I really did not have my best stuff.” Kokrak was bogey-free and shot 31 on Sunday afternoon.
“I made some putts,” he said. “That was what kept me in it.”