Putting carried Na to Greenbrier title
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — To a man, PGA Tour players spoke of the firming up of the Old White TPC golf course Saturday at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier as the rains and humidity that had settled into White Sulphur Springs early in the week faded.
But, those conditions continued on Sunday and without so much as a wisp of a cloud in the sky, putts blazed by holes and approach shots refused to hold on greens.
And, as a result, scores skyrocketed.
By the time Kevin Na was lifting the trophy on the 18th green, the average score had risen to 70.156, the highest in any single round since the second round in 2014. Low rounds were out there, but few and far between and Na’s 6-under-par 64 was plenty enough for a 5-stroke win over Kelly Kraft. That margin of victory represented a new high in the tournament’s history, with 2 shots being the largest difference. That was done by Angel Cabrera in 2014 and Jonas Blixt in 2013.
Much of that was because nearly everyone else around the top of the leaderboard faltered while Na excelled. Na spoke of the difficulty of Sunday’s round, but lower on the leaderboard the descriptions were even stronger.
Bubba Watson, who likely sees the Old White TPC as much if not more than anyone else in the field as a resident at The Greenbrier Resort, went as far as to compare Sunday to playing in the U.S. Open.
“The way I went about it was a struggle,” Watson said. “I’ve never seen this course this difficult. 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. It was pretty difficult out there. For me, I was just having trouble getting everything just right.”
But something about those conditions brought out the best in Na, who finished the tournament second in strokes gained putting with the majority of that coming on the weekend. He was third in the category on Sunday and second on Saturday, needing just 24 putts on each day to navigate the par-70 trek.
On Sunday he holed 143-feet, 8-inches worth of putts including a 43-foot bomb on No. 8, a 32-foot, 7-incher on No. 6 and a 23-foot, 9-inch putt on No. 10. They were all birdie putts.
“This golf course has changed from Friday, Saturday and Sunday played really hard and these greens were rock hard,” Na said. “The putter was just hot. I got over putts and (my caddie) and I were agreeing on a lot of lines and I started every one of them right on line and they were pouring in. It was just one of those days I felt great over the ball and everything was going in.”
Na’s surgical dissection of the tough putting surfaces made his win even more impressive to Watson.
“Kevin just stepped up, played good golf, hit quality shots and obviously, he must have made a lot of putts,” Watson said.
Those in pursuit weren’t so lucky.
Kelly Kraft, who entered Sunday as the co-leader along with Harold Varner, watched attempt after attempt go begging in the final group.
His putting reads as a reversal of Na’s as Kraft ranked second and sixth in strokes gained putting over the first two rounds but came in 56th and 63rd on the weekend. Despite ranking first in driving accuracy, hitting 13 out of 14 fairways on Sunday, Kraft’s performance on the green wasn’t enough as he couldn’t keep pace with Na. He settled for an even-par 70 and after Na took the lead on the fifth hole, didn’t seriously threaten again.
“I didn’t hardly make anything,” Kraft said. “It was hard to stay aggressive on the greens. They got so firm and fast — yesterday late and all day today. It was just the greens were kind of crusty on top and you had to hit the putt so soft, they were easy to bump off line. I thought I did a pretty good job for the most part with my speed except for a couple of holes. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Na’s navigation of the terrain was the ultimate difference in the win. He said he found something during a rain delay Thursday and rode that over the weekend. When presented a statistic stating he was 30th-from-worst in the field in putting through Friday and better than everyone else on the weekend, Na provided his most encompassing quote of the tournament.