St. Simons Island resident Patton Kizzire led the Mayakoba Classic from wire to wire and held a 4-stroke lead on the back nine in the final round.
Kizzire, who began the final round with a slim one-stroke advantage, did not make a bogey in the afternoon round of a 36-hole finale, carding a 4-under 67 after shooting a 66 earlier in the day. But his path to a first PGA Tour victory was far from leisurely, as playing partner Rickie Fowler, the highest ranked player in the field, almost caught Kizzire at the finish line.
Fowler birdied the 16th and 17th holes to close within one shot of Kizzire’s lead, but the former Auburn golfer made a solid par on the difficult 18th hole at El Camaleon GC in Playa del Carmen, Mex., to hold off Fowler’s late charge.
Kizzire finished at 19-under 265 to collect the winner’s check of $1,278,000 and vault into first place in the FedExCup standings. The victory earned Kizzire an invitation to the 2018 Masters, which will be his first start in a major championship. It also gets him into the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in early January and the PGA Championship later next year.
“Rickie made me work hard,” Kizzire said after his victory. “I had a lot of critical saves or birdie putts. That’s what you need to win golf tournaments.”
The 31-year-old Kizzire is in his third season on the PGA Tour, and had four previous chances to win, all coming in early season events in the fall, including the previous week’s tournament in Las Vegas.
In his first start as a PGA Tour member, Kizzire tied for second in Las Vegas in 2015, shooting 63 in the final round but finishing one behind Smylie Kaufman, who closed with a 61. Two weeks later, he tied for fourth in Mississippi, two shots behind the winner.
In the 2016-17 season opener in Napa, Cal., Kizzire led by a shot after 54 holes, but finished second after a final round 1-under 70, with Brendan Steele firing a 65 to edge Kizzire by one stroke.
The week prior to his win in Mexico, Kizzire birdied five of his last seven holes in Las Vegas, including four in a row beginning at the 14th, but missed by one shot of making it into a playoff, ending up in a tie for fourth after a final round 64.
Four days after his 64 in Las Vegas, Kizzire opened with a 62 in Mexico to lead Augusta’s Vaughn Taylor by two. Kizzire was in the first group off the first tee that morning and was on top of the leader board the entire round, carding 10 birdies on the day, including six straight beginning at the eighth hole. He was 10-under after 17 holes before taking bogey at the 18th.
Kizzire shared the lead at 10-under 132 with Fowler and Patrick Rodgers after 36 holes, and faced a 36-hole finish in Sunday after inclement weather halted play for several hours on both Friday and Saturday. Kizzire needed three straight birdies on his second nine in the second round to retain a share of first place, and spent Sunday morning battling Fowler for the lead. Fowler scored four straight birdies on the front nine to move in front, but Kizzire birdied three of three of the four to stay close to Fowler.
Three more birdies on the back nine gave Kizzire seven for the day and a 5-under 66, taking the lead by one when he birdied the 17th and Fowler bogeyed the 18th.
Kizzire got off to a fast start in the afternoon round with three birdies on the first five holes to take a 4-shot lead over Fowler. His lead never fell below three until Fowler’s birdies at 16 and 17.
After his hot start, Kizzire parred 12 of his last 13 holes, getting up and down four times for par after missing the green thanks to some clutch putting.
Kizzire’s ability to scramble over the final 36 holes began early Saturday morning after his second shot to the opening hole hit a tree and bounced back into the fairway. He managed to save bogey on the hole, and rebounded with seven birdies later in the round to shoot 66.
“To have a 12-footer for bogey on my first hole trying to win a golf tournament, that’s a challenging start,” Kizzire said. “To make that putt and kind of calm down, find my stride and start making birdies and get out front, that felt really food.”
In addition to moving to the top spot in the FedExCup standings, Kizzire improved from 236 to 119 in the World Golf Rankings.
Kizzire, a native of Montgomery who grew up in Tuscaloosa, turned pro after graduating from Auburn in 2008, and spent a number of years on the mini-tours, mainly the defunct Hooters Tour.
He finally made it to the Web.com Tour in 2015, and enjoyed a sensational rookie season, finishing as the leading money winner with two wins, two runner-up finishes and a total of five top-5s, earning more than $500,000.
That gave him a spot on the 2015-16 PGA Tour, and he almost won in his first start, and then again two weeks later. He added a pair of top 10s in San Diego and New Orleans, finishing the season 87th in the FedExCup standings, but fell to 99th after missing the cut in the first two Playoffs events.
After his runner-up finish in the 2016-17 opener in Napa, Kizzire again faded as the season went on, ending the regular season 58th before ending up 82nd after two more missed cuts in the Playoffs.
With his victory, Kizzire is exempt through the 2019-20 season, and will look to continue his excellent fall play throughout the rest of the season and made his first appearance in the 2018 Tour Championship at East Lake.
RSM Classic notes: The tournament added two more Georgians to the field Monday. Acworth resident Jason Bohn made it into the tournament as an alternate, with Vijay Singh and Alex Cejka among the four players withdrawing.
Bohn, who suffered heart attack last year during the Honda Classic, has struggled since his return to action, and lost his exempt status after the poorest season of a 14-year PGA Tour career that includes two wins.
Even with the withdrawal of Cejka, who is 12th on the FedExCup 2016-17 points list, the RSM Classic has four players in the top 10 (KIzzire, Chesson Hadley, Whee Kim and Ryan Armour), and nine of the top 30, with Georgians Charles Howell, Scott Brown and Brian Harman among that group. Howell tied for fourth and Brown tied for sixth in last week’s tournament in Mexico…
Suwanee resident David Skinns was one of four players to make it into the tournament in a qualifier at Brunswick CC. Skinns, a member of the Web.com Tour, shot 6-under 64 to tie for first and claim one of the four spots in the field.
Skinns, a native of England who played his college golf at Tennessee, played his last 10 holes in 6-under, shooting a 30 on his second nine, the front side at Brunswick CC. He had seven birdies and an eagle to offset three bogeys.
After playing limited Web.com schedules in 2012 and ’14, Skinns played a full schedule in 2017 and placed 58th on the money list to earn full status for 2018. Skinns was among the leaders after 36 holes in the second of four tournaments that make up the Web.com Finals and offer 25 spots for the following year’s PGA Tour.
But with his wife about to give birth, Skinns withdrew from that tournament and the one the following week, costing him his chance to make it to the PGA Tour.
This will be Skinns’ second PGA Tour start this fall. He also Monday qualified for the tournament in Mississippi and made the cut, finishing just outside the top 50.