Watson’s 72-hole aggregate of 15-under 269 matched his winning total from 2014 and he claimed his second title at Riviera Country Club in his 10th appearance with a final-round 3-under-par 34-34=68.
At the 2014 edition, he came from four back after 54 holes, playing the weekend in bogey-free 64-64. This time, he was the front-runner after opening in 66-68-67, and led by one over a trio of chasers, including playing partner Kokrak.
Watson began with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 first before bogey-5 at seven on a failed scramble, and would add a second circle at the par-4 ninth to reach the turn at 1-under on the day and trailing by one.
The 37-year-old rolled in a nine-foot one-putt par on the deviously difficult par-4 10th and rejoined the lead with a 28'8" sidewinder at the par-5 11th but was two down to Kokrak heading to the 14th tee.
"The putt on 10 ... that hole is very difficult, is the greatest and nicest way to say it," Watson said. "To make that putt and somehow make the putt on the very next hole, that combination of those two gave me the right frame of mind.”
Watson squared his second (and last) bogey at 15 with a failed up-and-down but rebounded with a curving 5'3" birdie-2 at 16 and went back-to-back with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 17th.
Standing on the 18th tee, Watson now held a one-shot margin over Scott, who was in the clubhouse on 14-under, and Kokrak, and calmly sealed the deal after a 302-yard drive found the fairway and a 177-yard approach to 12 feet, nine inches. Two putts later, he claimed his ninth win on TOUR in his 237th career event and first of the season in his fifth start.
Watson finished the week with 20 birdies – T4 in that category – but was T1 in total bogeys with just five. He was T7 in greens in regulation at 70.83 percent (51/72) and 11th in strokes gained: putting gaining 5.264 on the greens. Contrary to what was (and is always) being reported regarding the two-time Masters champ, he was not among the leaders in driving distance. He actually finished T16 in that stat with a 295.4 yard average, but did dial-it-up to 307.6 in the finale.
With the win, Watson improves to 3-for-10 when leading/co-leading after 54 holes and moves from No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking to No. 4 and vaults to 11th in the FedExCup standings from 115th.
The West Coast Swing opened with Jason Dufner winning the CareerBuilder from the 54-hole perch, and ended with Watson making good on his three-day advantage. In-between, Scott Brown, K.J. Choi, Danny Lee and Phil Mickelson all relinquished 54-hole leads.
What Else Did We Learn?
Five of the top-seven finishers were “quote, unquote” bombers, with Choi (T5) and Chez Reavie (7th) bucking the trend. In the end however, neither of those two, playing out of the penultimate and final threesomes, respectively, were able to keep pace – book-ended in each grouping by said bombers – with each coming home in over-par inward nines.
Experience matters at The Riv. There were 31 first-timers in the 144-man field and three shared top honors among the debutants at T20 on 6-under 278: Sponsor invite Luke List (66-70-75-67); Tyrone Van Aswegen (68-72-67-71); and Rory McIlroy (67-69-67-75).
Twenty-four of the Top 50 in the OWGR were in the field but only five finished inside the top 10 (Watson, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and Matt Kuchar). All five had made at least six prior appearances.
Adam Scott: Despite winning the 2005 NTO (unofficially), finishing runner-up in 2006, and posting a T10 in his last appearance in 2013, the Aussie entered his eighth appearance buried down in Bill Haas territory as a 33/1 outright. Two things weighed on him pre-tourney. First, he went T56 in his last start five weeks prior at the Sony and second, how’s that short putter working out?
He left with a two-way T2 on 14-under 270 (68-68-67-67), one shy of Watson and finished a more-than-respectable 15th in strokes gained: putting, including a 1.725 mark in the finale. It’s his second runner-up of the season on just four starts (2nd, CIMB), his 11th overall in his 249th career event, and bumps from 19th in OWGR to 13th.
Scott began two adrift of 54-hole leader Watson. He raced out 4-under thru his first four holes, sandwiching a par save at two (from 16’3”) with eagle-3 at the first and back-to-back birdies on three and four. In order, those par breakers dropped from 36’2”, 31’10” and 20’5”, respectively. It started to unravel with double bogey-6 at the eighth and after a three-putt bogey at 14 (from 17’8”) and a missed par save from 4’5” at 15 he was all but done.
The 35-year-old ended birdie-birdie with a six-footer at 17 and a chip-in at 18 for a walk-off 3, but too much damage had already been done.
Jason Kokrak: A pre-tourney 300/1 long shot, Kokrak led after 36 holes and played out of the final threesomes on both Saturday and Sunday. He entered his final frame one shy of Watson but co-led on 14-under after birdie at the par-4 seventh and turned in bogey-free 3-under. The 30-year-old added his fourth circle at the par-4 13th and went to the 14th tee now holding a two-shot lead. He retreated one at 15 (failed scramble) and curved in a par from 6'1" on 16 for a sand save but was unable to birdie either of his final two and could only watch as Watson birdied 16 and 17 to swipe the win.
Kokrak remains winless on TOUR in 110 pro starts but his 14-under 270 (68-64-70-68) was good for a two-way T2 with Scott. It equals a career-best T2 at the 2012 Frys.com and is a new personal best at the NTO in his fifth appearance (T34/2012). It’s also his first top 10 of the season in his 10th event.
Chez Reavie: The 34-year-old fell five spots to solo seventh following a final-round even-par 71. But, his 11-under 271 (66-67-69-71) was his first top at Riviera CC in six tries – preceded by four straight missed cuts and a 78th-place finish in his 2008 tourney debut – and was his first top 10 on TOUR since the 2011 BMW Championship.
As mentioned above, despite a 289.6 yard average in the finale compared to Watson’s 307.6 mark and Kokrak's 311.9 comprising the final threesome, Reavie held his own posting 12 (of 14) fairways and 13 greens in regulation but stalled out with a dismal 2.000 putts per GIR, including two three-putts.
Sung Kang: The open qualifier went for T72 in his only other NTO (72-71-73-80) and returned four years later to put up four red numbers (70-69-66-69). His 10-under 274 was good for a two-way T8 with Matt Kuchar and his top-10 finish gained him entry into this week’s Honda Classic, where the 28-year-old was originally the 10th alternate when the field was published last Friday.
Three names headline this list after not even making it to the weekend.
Jordan Spieth: The World No. 1 and pre-tourney odds-fave at 6/1 missed the cut by five shots at 5-over 147 (79-68).
Sergio Garcia: Had a pair of T4’s in his last three appearances but missed the weekend by four (74-72).
Jimmy Walker: The 37-year-old has won five times since the start of the 2013-14 season with all of those coming west of the Mississippi. He also owned four top 20s in his last five visits to Riviera CC but exited early after 72-71.
Dustin Johnson: The two-time and back-to-back NTO runner-up finished solo fourth on 13-under 271 (68-66-68-69), two swings back of champion Watson.
After entering championship Sunday one adrift and playing out of the penultimate threesome, he set the tone for his entire round with a missed eagle at the par-5 first from 8'1" and then three-putting the second for bogey-5. The 31-year-old co-led the field in total birdies with 22 but was T20 in bogeys with nine and 28th in strokes gained: putting, including a -0.127 mark in the final round. He settles for his sixth top 10 at Riviera CC in nine starts with five of those top-five finishes.
Charl Schwartzel: The first multiple winner on the European Tour in 2015-16, Schwartzel entered on the heels of an eight-shot romp at the Tshwane Open on home soil. He also had a T3 and solo fifth in three NTO appearances, but after opening in 68-68, was non-existent on the weekend with a pair of 73s for T45. The 31-year-old’s win on the Euro Tour was heavily downplayed as he was easily the odds-fave and the only player in the field ranked inside the Top 50 in OWGR, with 32 ranking outside the Top 1000.
No real qualifiers for this section this week, but we’ll conjure up two.
Paul Casey: You could throw the Englishman in here, one of two playoff losers here last year and with two other top-25 finishes in three starts. But, he had only played one official event in the past 14 weeks heading in, so T39 on 3-under 281 (73-69-71-68) sounds about right.
Hideki Matsuyama: The 23-year-old won the WMPO in his last start and was T4 here last year and T23 in his 2014 tourney debut. He tipped pre-tourney at a lofty 16/1 outright, but that was before he WD’d from the pro-am after nine holes with the flu. All told, Matsuyama delivered a T11 on 8-under 276 (69-67-68-72), and did a lot better than most thought.
The West Coast Swing is in the rear-view mirror as the TOUR heads to The Honda Classic for the Florida Swing. Padraig Harrington defends after eliminating rookie Daniel Berger in a two-hole playoff. For Harrington, a 200/1 pre-tourney dog and a sponsor invite, it was his sixth TOUR title – but first in nearly seven years – and became the tournament’s oldest winner at 43 years, 6 months, 2 days. For Berger, the runner-up finish came in his 12th career TOUR start and he would later end 2015 as the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year. Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 15th tournament of the season.