Jason Kokrak pushed his chips in at the very end of the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open on Sunday.The gamble paid off as he birdied four of his last six holes at Memorial Park Golf Course to shoot 65, get to 10 under on the week and defeat Kevin Tway by two.
The now-three-time PGA Tour winner almost failed to see the turn and the river on the weekend after his second round on Friday was postponed halfway through and he had to pick it back up in the cold on Saturday morning. Kokrak started the tournament scorching and came out on Saturday at 8 under, just two back of the lead after a round and a half. But he played the back nine of that suspended second round at Memorial Park in 41 (!) with two bogeys, a double and a triple while narrowly making the cut by two strokes.
It was flush, though, from there. He made 13 birdies over his final 36 holes, including four straight from Nos. 13-16 in Round 4 on Sunday to leapfrog a contingent that included Tway, Scottie Scheffler, Martin Trainer and Kramer Hickok. On a day when the second nine on this course was playing nearly a stroke over par, Kokrak played it in 4 under.
Interestingly, Kokrak mentioned multiple times this week how much he was struggling with his game and how he had to do an emergency session of sorts with his coach early in the week. We have evidence that this is true. His win at the Charles Schwab Challenge in May was his last top 10 on the PGA Tour.
Still, his 66-65 weekend was a masterclass in taking advantage of a made cut. He gained 11 of his 13 strokes over those last two days, finished first in the field from tee to green on Sunday and locked down his third PGA Tour win in his last 28 starts after not winning at all over the first 232. It’s reminiscent of what Jimmy Walker did in his mid-30s and has been extraordinarily impressive from Kokrak at this stage of his career.
Speaking of Walker, the next step for Kokrak is to contend in a major championship. He’s won three events — the CJ Cup, Charles Schwab Challenge and now the Houston Open — but he hasn’t gotten in the mix at one of the four big ones even though he’s been in the field in the last eight in a row and 18 total throughout his career.
With his strong game from tee to green and a putter that has improved immensely over the last two seasons, that’s a reasonable ask from him going into 2022 and beyond. He’ll need to go about it a little less dramatically, but Kokrak has made a leap from this time last year and should be considered a threat going into the new year. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open.
Scottie Scheffler (T2): It was a bummer of a Sunday for Scheffler, who is still looking for his first win. He shot a 1-under 69 in the finale after coming in with the solo lead after 54 holes but had to birdie two of the last three to do it. He played himself out of it early on the back nine as he played his first five in 3 over with the tournament in the balance. That portion of his round was a bit of an uninspiring effort in a big moment for somebody coming off of a tremendous Ryder Cup experience. I’ll hold onto his destruction of world No. 1 Jon Rahm in the singles portion of that Ryder Cup, but it would be nice to see Scheffler cash in on one of these opportunities and win at the PGA Tour level at some point. Grade: B+
Martin Trainer (T5): The No. 1,310 player in the world had missed 16 of 17 cuts, so of course he led through 64 holes of this tournament. Trainer had the putting week of his life and gained the majority of his nine strokes gained on the field with his putter — he made four putts over 25 feet on the week — but he couldn’t quite get it to the house on Sunday down the more difficult side of the course as Kokrak pulled away for the victory. Still, finishing T5 second gets Trainer nearly a quarter of the way toward earning his PGA Tour card for the 2022-23 season, which, when you’re the No. 1,310 player in the world, is a big deal. Grade: A+
Matthew Wolff (T11): What a wild Sunday for Wolff, who faded on the front nine on Sunday before making a 1 on the par-3 ninth hole to get his day back to even par. This is Wolff’s fourth consecutive top-20 finish and, maybe even more importantly, the third straight measured event in which he’s been solid from tee to green after a year of mostly struggling with it. Wolff is not in the field next weekend at the RSM Classic, which means he’ll head into the 2022 PGA Tour calendar year with his stock as high as it’s been since the end of 2020. Grade: B+