Las Vegas — Two weeks into the new season, rookies are ruling the PGA Tour.
Smylie Kaufman became the second straight rookie to win Sunday when he closed with a 10-under 61 and then waited more than two hours to see if anyone could catch him in the Shriners Hospital for Children Open.
That felt tougher than any of the seven birdies and one eagle he made over the final 11 holes at the TPC Summerlin.
“I dodged a lot of bullets coming down the stretch with guys coming,” Kaufman said after his one-shot victory. “So much more stressful than on the course. So much worse. I felt like I was watching an LSU football game.”
Kevin Na played a role in both rookies winning.
Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open last week, and Na made it easier on him in the second playoff hole at Silverado by taking bogey on the par-5 18th.
This time, Na caught Kaufman with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, only to flub a chip just short of the par-3 17th and make bogey. His 15-foot birdie putt to force a playoff caught part of the right lip and kept going.
Kaufman, a 23-year-old from LSU, played the last four holes in 4 under. That included his 3-wood to 15 feet for eagle on the par-4 15th, and a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole that turned out to be the winner. He started the final round seven shots behind and finished at 16-under 268.
“I was just hitting it so good the last few days and just wanted to give myself a chance and post a number, and that’s what it came down to,” Kaufman said.
Two other rookies, Brett Stegmaier (69) and Patton Kizzire (63), were part of a six-way tie for second.
Kaufman was on the range, on the phone, and in a tent watching nervously on TV over the final hour. Cameron Tringale (66) and Jason Bohn (66) each had birdie putts to force a playoff, with Bohn’s 40-foot attempt narrowly missing.
The last chance belonged to Stegmaier, whose putt down the slope from the fringe stopped a few inches short.
“It was pretty significantly downhill, so it was all speed,” said Stegmaier, also making his fifth PGA Tour start. “I mean, if the speed was off, the line was going to be off. I was probably a foot in the fringe, so I probably just held up that extra foot. I like to die my putts in the hole, and sometimes you run the risk of leaving it short.”
The victory sends Kaufman to Augusta National next April for the Masters. He also gets in the PGA Championship, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start the new year and The Players Championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” Kaufman said. “If you would have told me I had a round at the Masters, if somebody was going to take me out and not completely with the Masters, just to play Augusta National, I would have freaked out. But now that I’m playing the Masters, it’s a joke. It’s unbelievable.”
Na said he thought he could make his chip for birdie on the 17th except that it was sitting up on a patch of grass into the grain.
“And I just went under it,” Na said. “And with the Bermuda into the grain, I don’t know what happened.”
Kaufman, who tied for 10th in the Frys.com Open in his rookie debut, earned $1,152,000. He spent a lot of his time waiting on the finish with Kizzire, a longtime friend from Birmingham, Alabama.
“He was keeping me calm, kind of cracking some jokes here and there,” Kaufman said. “He actually made it a lot easier on me watching the finale.”
Alex Cejka also tied for second after making a birdie on the 18th hole for a 66. William McGirt and Chad Campbell tied for eighth at 14 under. McGirt had a 62, going 9 under in a nine-hole stretch that ended with an eagle on the par-5 16th.
“I started off kind of sluggish,” McGirt said, “but I kind of found something there with the putter on eight. … Starting where I started the day, to end up where I did, I’m tickled to death.”
Campbell had a 68.
Rickie Fowler finished with a 68 to tie for 25th at 9 under. Jimmy Walker, playing alongside Na in the second-to-last group, had a 78 to fall into a tie for 50th at 4 under.
“It’s been a fun week,” Fowler said. “It was nice being back. A lot of positives coming out of the golf side. Got some stuff to clean up, but definitely enjoyed it.”
Lydia Ko ran away with the Taiwan Championship at Taipei, Taiwan, to regain the No. 1 spot in the world ranking.
The 18-year-old New Zealander holed a 30-yard pitch for eagle on the par-5 12th and finished with a 7-under 65 in sunny, breezy conditions at Miramar for a nine-stroke victory.
Ko took the top spot in the world from South Korea’s Inbee Park with her fifth LPGA Tour victory of the season and the 10th of her career. Park skipped her title defense at Miramar to play in a Korea LPGA event, where she tied for second Sunday.
At 18 years, 6 months, 1 day, Ko is the youngest player to win 10 events on any major tour. Horton Smith set the PGA Tour mark of 21 years, 7 months in 1929, and Nancy Lopez set the previous LPGA Tour record in 1979 at 22 years, 2 months, 5 days.
Ko broke ties with Park for the tour victory lead and the No. 1 spot in the player of the year points race, and earned $300,000 to increase her tour-leading total to $2,716,753.
The South Korean-born Ko finished at 20-under 268 after opening with rounds of 69, 67 and 67 to take a four-stroke lead into the final day. South Koreans So Yeon Ryu and Ji Eun-hee tied for second.
Ko has three victories in her last five starts. She won in Canada and France — where she became the youngest major champion — in consecutive starts, tied for second two weeks ago in Malaysia and tied for fourth last week in South Korea.
England’s Justin Rose won the Hong Kong Open, closing with a 2-under 68 for a one-stroke victory over Denmark’s Lucas Bjerregaard.
Rose finished at 17-under 263 for his eighth European Tour title. The 2013 U.S. Open champion opened with round of 65, 66 and 64. Bjerregaard closed with a 69.