Kaufman captures Vegas title in fifth PGA start

Smylie Kaufman AFP PHOTO

Smylie Kaufman AFP PHOTO

LAS VEGAS: Smylie Kaufman, a 23-year-old American playing only his fifth PGA Tour event, fired a 10-under par 61 on Sunday (Monday in Manila) to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Kaufman, who trailed by seven strokes when the day began, fired eight birdies and an eagle in the final round at TPC Summerlin to finish on 16-under par 268.

That was one stroke ahead of a pack of six rivals who kept Kaufman on the edge of his seat as he watched one after another fail to match his clubhouse lead.

“I dodged a lot of bullets with guys coming down the stretch,” Kaufman said. “It’s a lot worse watching than it is on the course.”

Kaufman, ranked 226th in the world, secured a two-year tour stay and a berth in next year’s Masters among other champion’s perks.

“It’s unbelievable, Kaufman said. “I can’t even put it into words.”

Americans Patton Kizzire, Cameron Tringale, Jason Bohn, Kevin Na and Brett Stegmaier plus Germany’s Alex Cejka shared second on 269 with Americans William McGirt and Chad Campbell next on 270, McGirt after a 62.

Kaufman birdied the second, birdied four holes in a row starting at the eighth, sandwiched birdies at the par-5 13th and 16th around a 13-foot eagle putt at 15, and closed with a birdie.

“I was in rhythm all day,” Kaufman said. “Front nine I hit it well and didn’t get the putts. I got an eight-footer for birdie at eight and that got the round going.”

Kaufman’s father was a US college coach of Northern Ireland star Graeme McDowell.

“I still use a couple things he taught me,” Kaufman said of McDowell. “He taught me to go up and down the shaft with my hand to control the distances. He taught me how to hit a fairway.”

Kaufman then watched as his rivals one by one could not match him down the stretch, with Na providing the biggest scare. Na hit a 25-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th to match Kaufman for the lead but missed a 12-foot par putt at the par-3 17th to fall back and then missed a 15-foot birdie putt at 18.

“I was in a good position,” Na said. “Came up short.”

Stegmaier, who had considered quitting golf as a career earlier this year, birdied 15 and 16 to pull within a shot and had a 22-foot birdie putt on 18 to force a playoff, but left it inches short.



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