Kevin Na has spent plenty of his career second-guessing himself as much as the golfing world has scratched its collective head wondering why a player so talented was not winning more golf tournaments.
But Na, a South Korean-born American citizen from Las Vegas, put everything together this week, especially over the final two rounds, and captured just the second PGA Tour win of his career Sunday in A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Na closed with a 6-under-par 64 to finish at 19-under 261 on The Greenbrier Resort’s Old White TPC course, giving him a five-stroke victory over third-round co-leader Kelly Kraft, who shot a 70 on Sunday.
Brandt Snedeker (who climbed 18 spots on the strength of a final-round 64) and Jason Kokrak (67) tied for third at 12 under.
The victory was Na’s first since he won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October 2011. He had made 158 starts and played 528 rounds on the PGA Tour since his last win, racking up nine second- and eight third-place finishes since his most recent victory six years, nine months and nine days ago.
Na turned professional at age 18 in 2001, playing on the European, Asian and Web.com Tours, winning on the latter two, before earning his PGA Tour card in 2004.
As Na was waiting to be interviewed by CBS Sports after the win, he received a text from Tiger Woods. He had a huge smile on his face and was not embarrassed to release a sigh of relief.
“This feels amazing – I mean, I see the record (of time between wins) every time I’m on TV,” Na said. “I’ve been close so many times and failed so many times. When I won before, it took me eight years, and I said then, ‘It’s not going to take me eight years to win the second one.’ I was right, it took seven.”
Na said the win this week did more than just get the proverbial monkey off his back – it provides the 34-year-old a great confidence boost.
“It’s nice to get that second trophy,” Na said. “The most important thing today was that I never got ahead of myself – I stayed within myself. I was right there, things were just happening, and for some reason I just felt like it was my day.
“The amount of close calls I’ve had, and disappointments I’ve had … walking off the 18th hole, and into the locker room, thinking about it 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.”
Joaquin Niemann of Chile (64), Austin Cook (66), Joel Dahmen (69), Sam Saunders (70) and third-round co-leader Harold Varner III (72) shared fifth place, seven strokes off Na’s winning pace.
Russell Henley (a final-round-low 63) ended up alone in 10th, another shot in arrears.
Snedeker recorded eight birdies and two bogeys on his climb up the leaderboard and was encouraged about his play 10 days before the beginning of the season’s third major tournament, the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland.
It was Snedeker’s first top-five finish in nearly 18 months.
“It felt good to get back on the right side of things again,” Snedeker said. “It’s been a tough year for me, just not playing up to where I think I’m capable of. Putting the work in, knowing I’m working as hard, if not harder, than I ever have. So, I knew this was coming, it’s just hard to see the forest through the trees sometimes.”
Bubba Watson struggled to a 72 on Sunday to fall into a tie for 13th at 9 under.
“At the end of the day, top-15 is good,” said Watson. “The way I went about it was a struggle, and today this was like a U.S. Open. 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. Kevin just stepped up, played good golf, hit quality shots.”
Defending champion and reigning PGA Tour rookie of the year Xander Schauffele could manage no better than a 75 while playing alongside Na. He was never a factor in the final round, winding up tied for 21st at 8 under.
Anirban Lahiri of India, who shot a 61 in the second round, shot 71-76 on the weekend to end up tied for 39th at 5 under. First-round leader Webb Simpson, who recorded a 61 on Thursday, slumped to 76-72 on over the final two rounds and finished tied for 47th at 4 under.
Phil Mickelson made news again this week, and it was again not for his play but for a rules violation. Mickelson called a two-stroke penalty on himself after he walked up and patted down some heavy rough just ahead of the tee box while playing the par-4 seventh hole. That is considered a violation for improving a line of play and cost him two shots by rule.
Mickelson double-bogeyed the hole and finished with a 74 on Sunday, at 1 under for the tournament and in a tie for 65th.
The PGA Tour heads west to Silvis, Ill., next week for the John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run. Bryson DeChambeau is the event’s defending champion.