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Jason Kokrak conquers Shadow Creek for drought-breaking win

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Jason Kokrak conquers Shadow Creek for drought-breaking win

    Jason Kokrak wins at THE CJ CUP

    LAS VEGAS – The talk around the golf course before the final round of THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK was the winner was going to come from the penultimate group. A snap poll of media and volunteers nearly all said as such. They were right. Sort of.

    Because when pressed who would win from said group, not one person stumped for Jason Kokrak. Instead it was Xander Schauffele or Jason Day who were garnering the love. A few people dissented and said Russell Henley would keep hold of his overnight three-shot lead and win from the final group.

    RELATED: Final leaderboard | What’s in Kokrak’s bag?

    Perhaps we didn’t ask the right people because it was Kokrak who reigned supreme after perhaps the putting performance of his career helped him to a final round 8-under 64 that lifted him to 20-under and ultimately a two-shot win.

    With just a little research we would have known Kokrak is part of at BetMGM-sponsored crew who often play Shadow Creek – one of the more exclusive courses in the U.S. While the majority of players in the field this week had never played the course or had less than a handful of rounds at the place, Kokrak guesses he’s been out here “north of 20 rounds.”

    “I have played quite a few rounds here at Shadow Creek so I know the greens pretty well, I know the little intricacies of this place. Not like some of the local caddies, but it is definitely a place that I feel comfortable at,” he said.

    And he played with that sort of familiarity, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting for the first time in his now 10-season career. His caddie David Robinson was also instrumental in the result. It was he who suggested a change to a longer 36-inch putter recently and it was Robinson who is in charge of the green reading in the duo.

    “I would characterize it more D-Rob's work. He reads them pretty dang good. And I did a good job of hitting the spots where we were trying to putt it to,” Kokrak said after gaining an incredible 10.293 strokes on the field on the greens, including 3.570 in the final round.

    “He gave me the tip to go to the 36-inch putter just to kind of stand a little bit taller, get the putter more in the palm of my hands. Ever since that happened I feel great with Bettinardi and we dialed it in and started rolling it pretty nicely for the last month or two.”

    The win was a drought breaker for the 35-year-old. Prior to this week he’d had 232 starts without a win and had built up plenty of scar tissue from close calls. There had been six top-three finishes without a trophy to this point.

    “Being 10 years, I definitely had some scar tissue … If you're not nervous, you're not alive ... I definitely had some nerves going … but I think I knew in my own mind that I was going to get it done, it was just a matter of time of me getting out of my own way and letting it happen,” Kokrak said.

    “Because my game is right there with the best players in the world and I just need to continue to believe so and if the putting's there for me, we're going to be right there in contention.”

    On Sunday he saw off Day early. The Australian was finishing off his warmup when he felt a twinge in his neck. Then walking towards the first tee it completely locked up and left him in serious discomfort. With no time for treatment he tried to play but was walking off halfway through the second hole.

    Not long after, Henley was falling back and neither Talor Gooch nor Lanto Griffin – who were playing with the overnight leader – were taking advantage. Schauffele was, though. Kokrak watched Schauffele birdie three of the opening five holes to make his push for the lead. No matter. Kokrak birdied five of the first eight, including four in a row from the fifth to the eighth.

    He pushed to 19-under with birdies at Nos. 10 and 11 only to see Schauffele fire up and come after him. When the four-time TOUR winner slotted home a 46-foot putt from the fringe on the par-3 13th, he had joined Kokrak on top and a match play scenario had virtually ensued as they sat three clear of any other players.

    When they came to the famed finish at Shadow Creek, the par-5 16th, par-3 17th and par-5 18th the pair remained tied. But both found trouble on 16 and had failed to reach the green after three shots. Schauffele couldn’t get up and down from greenside rough. Kokrak did from a greenside bunker. And from there he knew he was looking good.

    “I know it's hard to make birdie on 17 because that flagstick has so much undulation near it,” he said.

    Sure enough, the two made par leaving just the finishing hole to navigate. The known long-hitter just pummeled his ball 342 yards into the fairway, a shot he said, “was the biggest key for me.” It forced Schauffele to match, and he couldn’t. His tee ball hopped into the left rough, effectively ending his chances from that point.

    “He pushed me along just as I was probably pushing him along, making a couple birdies here and there. I think our better ball game would have been pretty decent today,” Kokrak said of the duel between the two.

    “It was very nice to come up 18 and have a one‑shot lead. Xander's a great player, he's eighth in the world or something like that and a proven TOUR winner. To solidify my first win here against a great player like that makes it a little more special.”

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