CJ Cup grades: Jason Kokrak gets first PGA Tour win at Shadow Creek after 233 starts

Jason Kokrak has made a great living on the PGA Tour, mostly because of his driver. On Sunday, he made $1.8 million because of his putter. Kokrak shot a 64 in Round 4 to finish at 20 under and take the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek by two strokes over Xander Schauffele, who doubled as his playing partner on Sunday in the finale.

Kokrak led the field in putting on the day (as well as the week) and the result was a bogey-free 64 to score the first (first!) PGA Tour win of his career. Kokrak has six wins as a professional, but his closest call on the PGA Tour to date was a pair of finishes tied for second-place and one tied for third place (which occurred earlier in 2020). 

A small-field event with a $9.75 million purse is a dandy place to get your first one, though, and Kokrak went out and earned it. Holding off a 66 from Schauffele in the final round of any event is no small thing, and Kokrak did it in one of the strongest fields of the year.

After going out in 31, Kokrak fought his way to a back-nine 33 even though it never felt like he was ball-striking his way to a title. Schauffele, on the other hand, seemed at times allergic to the lead, which has been a bit of an issue for him over the course of his career. When he led going into Saturday, he went out and shot 74. Then on Sunday, after touching the lead at 19 under he played the final five holes in 1 over.

Still, Kokrak pushed himself into a nearly-impossible spot to catch by hitting 17 of 18 greens, gaining over 10 strokes on the field with his flat stick over the course of the week and wisely navigating the last few holes with Schauffele on his tail. 

It’s somewhat incredible that somebody who has made nearly $15 million in his career and played in 13 major championships has never won a PGA Tour event, but it’s true. And while some — like Brooks Koepka — have noted that a tournament like this one is a nice competition but mainly a warmup for the November Masters, it’s now a massive and meaningful event — and the first victory in 233 PGA Tour starts — for Kokrak.

Eighteen weeks ago Kokrak, to the delight of many on social media who make jokes about golf for a living, put a photo of himself with a pair of cards on Instagram saying he was going “all in” on 2020. It turned out to be more than just an extremely meme-able photo because just over 100 days later, he nabbed his first victory in, of all places, Las Vegas. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek.

Rory McIlroy (T21): He led the field in driving but struggled with his approach shots again, which could be a concern going into the Masters. That part of his game has not been quite as sharp as you might expect from McIlroy over the past few months. Still, he played well for the first 63 holes (before a closing 41 on the back nine on Sunday) going into next week’s Zozo Championship. He’ll have a good opportunity there for a nice mini-reset with Augusta (and his bid for the career grand slam) four weeks away. Grade: B+

Brooks Koepka (T28): In his first event back after a two-month layoff, Koepka beat last week’s runner-up (Matthew Wolff) by 14 strokes and was solid in every aspect other than with the driver (which will come). More importantly, he insisted throughout the week that his knee and hip are doing well and he’ll be ready to rock at Augusta National.

“I feel normal now, I just feel like I’m supposed to,” Koepka said. “So … this is more for just getting competitive reps for Augusta, that’s kind of what this is.” Grade: B+

Matthew Wolff (73rd): I did not see this coming coming off of back-to-back tied-for-second finishes for Wolff (including at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He shot 80 (!!) in Round 1 and lost strokes in nearly every category this week. This might be who he is — threatening to win one week and finishing nearly last the next — but the event at Shadow Creek was a sharp reminder that no matter how hot you are, golf can get you from out of nowhere. Grade: D

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