Monday, July 09, 2018

Kevin Na ends long, lean spell by winning at The Greenbrier

By HELEN ROSS
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia — Kevin Na wasn’t sure he’d ever have another Sunday like this one.
One where he felt the elation of hoisting a trophy instead of the disappointment of yet another close call. One where he savoured the satisfaction of a job well done rather than second-guessing himself on the solitary drive home.
Na’s first win had been a long time coming, eight years, in fact. And in the last seven he hadn’t been able follow it up, despite six runner-up finishes and a host of other top 10s.
“A lot of heartbreaks,” he acknowledged.
Sunday at The Old White TPC, though, was different. Na took control, almost from the outset, and fired a 64 that enabled him to virtually coast to a five-stroke victory over Kelly Kraft at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
His time had finally come. Again.
“I tried not to think about winning,” Na said. “Obviously it seems like I've always tried too hard. I mean, how do you say you tried too hard? What is the difference, the fine line between trying too hard and letting it happen?
“Definitely thinking about that trophy. I was definitely thinking about winning. But I was trying to stay in the moment. … I just felt great. I just felt relaxed.”
Na put himself in the driver’s seat with a barrage of six birdies in a seven-hole stretch that began at the fourth hole. No one else came close to keeping pace on an afternoon when the crusty greens at the Old White TPC otherwise were yielding birdies grudgingly.
“These greens were rock hard,” Na said. “Some of these pins you couldn't get to. But I hit some great shots, and the putter was just hot.
“It was just one of those days that I felt great over the ball, and everything was going in.”
When he made a clutch 5-footer for par at the 14th hole to preserve what was then a four-stroke advantage, Na felt like he could could see the finish line clearly. He pumped his fist in satisfaction because “I felt like that was the key putt to an easy walk up 18.”
Bubba Watson, who ended up in a tie for 13th, finished his post-round interviews and went back to the final green to watch Na finish. Harold Varner, who had shared the overnight lead, put aside his own disappointment and ran over to congratulate his friend with the TV cameras capturing the moment.
“It's an amazing feeling,” Na said. “I've waited a long time for this. Lot of close calls, lot of disappointments. I wasn't sure if it was going to come again.
“I was hoping it would, sooner than later, but my game was starting to feel really good this year. … I was thinking I was going to win one before the year was over and here it is.”

NOTABLES

Maybe the third time will be the charm for Kelly Kraft, who tied for fifth a year ago in his debut at The Greenbrier and gutted out a solo second on Sunday with an even par 70.
“Obviously, I would have loved to win after leading coming into today, but, you know, sometimes you run into a guy that makes a lot of putts,” said Kraft, who was tied with Varner at the start of the day. “I didn't play good enough to win today. … But I definitely had a lot of confidence now, going for the rest of the year, moving up the FedExCup list quite a ways, I'm sure.”
Indeed he did – Kraft jumped 60 spots to 59th. He’s headed to Carnoustie, too, joining Brandt Snedeker, Austin Cook and Jason Kokrak in earning the four available invitations for the season’s third major championship in two weeks.
“It's awesome. I've never played in one. So I get to go over there and play Carnoustie and see what that's all about,” he said.
Snedeker’s round of 64 on Sunday included eight birdies and sends him to the John Deere Classic, a tournament he hasn’t played since tying for second there in 2009, with much needed-momentum. His tie for third is Snedeker’s second top-10 in his last four starts (his only top-10s of the season) and vindicates his hard work .
“It's been a tough year for me, just not playing up to where I think I'm capable of,” Snedeker said. “Putting the work in, knowing I'm working as hard, if not harder, than I ever have. So I knew this was coming, it's just hard to see the forest through the trees sometimes.”
Snedeker also made a big jump in the FedExCup, moving from 115th to 84th. The 2012 FedExCup winner was pleased by the jump but cautions he has work to do.
“Being a past champion, I kind of quantify my year like if I make it to East Lake, it's been a good year, if I don't, it's not,” he said. “So I've got a long way to go to get into the top 30. .... But glad I'm playing good again and playing back to my capabilities.”
Bubba Watson, who has a summer home at The Greenbrier is as familiar as anyone with The Old White TPC – and he said on Sunday that he had never seen the course play as difficult as it did in the final round.
“Around the greens, on the greens, as firm as they were, as slick as they were, this was a U.S. Open-type of golf course today,” Watson said. “It was pretty difficult out there. For me, I was having trouble getting everything just right.”
The greens definitely seemed puzzling to him. While Watson was sixth in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and tied for 13th in Strokes Gained: Total, he was a distant 52nd in Strokes Gained: Putting. Watson had started the final round trailing by just three strokes but Sunday’s 2-over 72 left the year’s three-time TOUR winner in a tie for 13th, which matched his previous best finish here.
“The week was okay,” he said. “But the way I went about it was a struggle.”
Phil Mickelson fell victim to what he called a few “bonehead moves” on Sunday. The first came at the seventh hole, where he stepped and tamped down some fescue grass in the front of the tee box before hitting his drive.
As soon as he did it, Mickelson thought, “Oh my goodness, that might be a penalty.” He told his playing partner Lanto Griffin and called in rules official Robbie Ware, who determined Mickelson had violated of Rule 13-2, which prohibits improving your lie, area of intended stance or swing or line of play.
“It was just one of those things that I wasn’t really paying attention or thinking,” said Mickelson, who also got a two-stroke penalty in his last start at the U.S. Open for hitting a moving ball.
Mickelson’s final hole was another adventure after his tee shot on the par 3 strayed well left onto the putting green beside the grandstands. He got a drop, hit his second shot into a bunker, his third onto the green and three-putted from 12 feet for a triple bogey.
“I don't even know what to say,” said Mickelson, who shot 74. “I wasn't really having my best day focus-wise. I hit a terrible shot off the tee.”
Next up for Mickelson is the Scottish Open, which begins Thursday at Gullane. Over the next three days, he plans to squeeze in practice rounds at the Ryder Cup course in Paris and Carnoustie, which hosts the Open Championship in two weeks, as well as at Gullane.

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