Kevin Na wins Greenbrier tourney by 5 shots

July 9, 2018

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - For a golf tournament that historically provides drama deep into the late hours of Sunday, the 2018 A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier was a bit anticlimactic.

But, don’t tell that to winner Kevin Na.

On a stingy Old White TPC course that played the toughest it had all week, Na blew past the competition, coming up with a 6-under-par 64 to claim his first PGA Tour win in nearly seven years and in 158 starts. His final total of 19-under dusted second-place Kelly Kraft, who finished at 14-under after entering Sunday in a tie with Harold Varner III for the tournament lead. Kraft shot an even par while Na rode birdies on No. 4, No. 5, No. 6, No. 8 and No. 9 to blow past Kraft and leave the field in his wake.

“It’s indescribable,” an emotional Na said afterward. “The amount of close calls I’ve had and disappointments I’ve had, walking off the 18th hole in the locker room on the drive back to the hotel. I mean, a lot of heartbreaks. But today everything was going well. Everything was going my way and it was nice to have that big lead going up to the last hole and enjoying the moment. It was well worth it.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to come again, I was hoping it would sooner than later.”

Na got that big lead because while his red-hot round was rolling, nearly everyone else within striking distance to begin the day was faltering.

Varner settled for a 2-over 72. Xander Schauffele, Na’s playing partner and the defending tournament champion who entered the day tied with Na at 13-under limped to a 5-over 75 to finish 8-under in a tie for 18th.

But the shots kept coming for Na, who was rarely off target and when he was, holed saving par putts to keep the lead and the momentum.

And now, Na has momentum on the season. The win pushed him up to 18th in the FedExCup standings, leaping 40 spots from a week ago.

“I always look at the FedExCup numbers,” he said. “The goal is to get the last tournament, the Tour Championship in Atlanta. A win here obviously boosted me all the way to 18. I’ve got to keep playing well, play well in the playoffs and maybe another ‘W’ in the playoffs I can bring the FedExCup home.”

That remains to be seen but if Na can perform anything like he did on the weekend in White Sulphur Springs, it’s certainly in the realm of possibility.

After pars on the first four holes, Na’s putter ignited and his score plummeted. He entered the fourth hole a shot back and by the time he finished the ninth, he was four strokes up.

He added a birdie on 10 and gave it right back on 11 with his only bogey of the day. But as important as the long birdie putts he’d made on the front nine were, so were the tricky par putts on the back nine as the greens at the Old White TPC rolled the fastest they had all weekend.

In particular, Na credited a save he made at the par-4, 14th that resulted in a fist pump.

“The hole before I had a nice up and down, about a four-footer,” Na said. “I hit a putt, I thought it had a chance of going in, (caddie) Kenny (Harms) said, ‘Go,’ he thought I left it short and it rolled out five feet past the hole. We were shocked. Here I was chance for a birdie and now I’ve got a five-footer. I had to collect myself and say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to get myself together and make this par putt.’ I felt like that was the key putt to an easy walk up 18.”

Those kinds of makes seemed to be few and far between for everyone else, including Kraft who like so many others, just never could get his round going in the right direction Sunday.

“Obviously, I would have loved to win after leading coming into today,” Kraft said. “But sometimes you run into a guy that makes a lot of putts. I didn’t play good enough to win today. I didn’t hole any putts.

“But all-in-all, this place is special to me. I played good here last year. ... A couple of my two best finishes on the PGA Tour, so I look forward to coming here again.”

Brandt Snedker matched Na’s 64 to jump all the way into a tie for third with Jason Kokrak. Both of them as well as Joaquin Niemann and Austin Cook, who were part of a five-way tie for fifth, qualified for the Open Championship via their finishes.

Russell Henley had the lowest round of the day with a 7-under 63 and moved all the way up to grab 10th place at 11-under, but for the most part, low rounds came from those too far down the leaderboard to make much difference in Sunday’s outcome.

Na finished the evening with one final dagger on the par-3 18th, sticking a tee shot to within 11-feet, five inches at nearly the exact same spot he’d stand a few moments later, choking back emotion and clutching a brand new trophy.

“I was trying to hold it in,” Na said. “I had a beautiful, beautiful tee shot. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I got it just over the ridge. It was an easy putt and all I needed to do was two-putt. It was nice to have a big cushion where I could enjoy the moment walking off the 18th hole, say, ‘Hi’ to my loved ones on camera. It’s just an incredible feeling right now.”

Varner, Sam Saunders and Joel Dahmen rounded out the tie for fifth at 12-under.

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