Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images
By Christoper Powers
A player of Kevin Na’s ability should have more than just one win on the PGA Tour, but Na knows better than anyone that they don’t come easy. It took him nearly eight years to get his first, a two-stroke victory over Nick Watney at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Fittingly, career victory No. 2 on Sunday at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier came after nearly eight years once again, as Na left no doubt by carding a final-round six-under 64 to win by five over Kelly Kraft.
This one may be even sweeter than the first for Na, whose give himself plenty of chances during his lengthy win drought.
“It feels amazing,” he said.”I see the record every time on TV, ‘the most top-5s, the most top-10s without a win since 2010 or 2000-’ whatever it is, I’m always up there. I’ve been close so many times, failed so many times, and when I won it took me eight years to win and I said to everyone, it’s not going to take eight years to win the second one, it took seven.”
After opening with a one-under 69 on Thursday, Na was a complete afterthought, eight shots back of first-round leader Webb Simpson. But he came storming back with 18 birdies over the next three rounds, including seven on Sunday thanks to a red-hot putter. In his final two rounds he made over 271 feet of putts, including 23, 32 and 43 footers on Sunday. For the week, Na ranked first in putts per green in regulation and second in strokes-gained/putting.
The victory gives Na four finishes of T-6 or better this season, and will put him well over the $2.5 million mark in earnings for the year. It also makes him an interesting candidate for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, as he now ranks 13th in the standings. Much more importantly, it validates all the work the South Korea-born product has put in over these last few years.
“Obviously, a big confidence boost,” he said. “It’s nice to get that second trophy. I saw that trophy when I walked on the tee every day, it’s a beautiful trophy and I thought about how good it would look at home. But most importantly today I kept within myself, never got ahead of myself. Things were just happening and for some reason I felt like it was my day, maybe somebody up there looking out for me.
Kraft, who posted a final-round 70, ended his round on a strong note with a birdie at the 18th, securing a solo second finish and a spot in the Open Championship. It’s the second solo second of his career, the first coming last year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Two of the other three Open Championship spots went to Jason Kokrak and Brandt Snedeker, who tied for third at 13-under 267. Kokrak fired a three-under 67, while Snedeker shot a six-under 64 to earn his spot. Austin Cook claimed the final spot by finishing in a tie for fifth and breaking the tie via Official World Golf Ranking points.
Among that group in a tie for for fifth at 12-under 268 was Chile’s Joaquin Niemann, who continues to build on an incredible season since turning professional after the Masters despite a limited amount of starts. A final-round 64 gave the 19-year-old his fourth finish of T-8 or better in nine events (eight as a professional), and it secured him PGA Tour status for next season.