WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Seven years and some 158 tournaments removed from his lone PGA Tour victory, Kevin Na finally added a follow-up.
A blistering 29 on the Old White TPC’s front nine fueled Na to a five-shot cushion Sunday at the Greenbrier. His final-round 63 pushed him to 19-under, the second-best score in the event’s eight-year run.
“I’ve been close so many times and failed so many times,” said Na, referencing six runner-up finishes since last winning the Shriners Open in 2011. “The disappointments I’ve had — walking off the 18th hole, in the locker room, on the drive back to the hotel. A lot of heartbreaks.
“I’ve waited a long time for this. I wasn’t sure if it was going to come again.”
When it finally arrived, the 34-year-old Na relished a pressure-free walk toward the 18th green. Soon he was outfitted in the Greenbrier’s green jacket and hoisting the hand-blown glass cup.
“It’s a beautiful trophy,” he said. “I saw it this week and I thought about how good it would look at home.”
After opening Sunday in the second-to-last group, Na surged ahead thanks to a stretch of five birdies in six holes. He tamed ridges and made perfect reads by curling in putts from 43, 32, 23 and 21 feet.
“The putter was just hot,” he said. “I started every one of them right on-line and they were just pouring in.”
Na earned $1.3 million and climbed to 18th in the FedExCup standings. His four-round score of 261 came within three strokes of Stuart Appleby’s tournament-record 258 in 2010.
Third-round co-leaders Kelly Kraft (70) and Harold Varner III (72) couldn’t keep pace. Kraft’s 11-foot birdie putt on the par-3 18th salvaged sole possession of second place at 14-under, and it also secured one of four qualifying spots for the upcoming British Open.
“I’ve never played in one,” Kraft said. “So I get to go over there and play Carnoustie and see what thats all about”
Varner bogeyed the first, ninth and 11th holes before encountering a mess on No. 13 when his tee shot drifted out of bounds. He subsequently found a bunker and lipped out a 2-foot putt on his way to double-bogey. His tied for fifth at 12-under and missed qualifying for the British Open when his 17-foot birdie attempt on No. 18 stopped short.
Jason Kokrak and Brandt Snedeker, both of who shot 13-under, joined Austin Cook (-12) in claiming the other qualifier spots.
In an event where no champion has repeated, Xander Schauffele became the latest to fade. One shot back when the day began, he bogeyed five holes on the front nine and shot 75 to finish at 8-under.
Russell Henley’s 63 was Sunday’s lowest round and lifted him into 10th place at 11-under.
Despite four birdies, Phil Mickelson suffered two abysmal holes while carding a 74 that dropped him to 1-under.
He ran afoul of the rules on the seventh hole when he inadvertently tamped down some fescue in front of the tee box. Realizing that it improved his line of play, Mickelson called a two-stroke penalty on himself and wound up bogeying.
“Right when I did it, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness that might be a penalty,’” Mickelson said. “I just wasn’t really thinking. I just had a few bonehead moves today.”
His triple-bogey on No. 18 began by yanking his tee shot behind the grandstand onto a practice green. He dropped in the rough, hit into a bunker and eventually three-putted after a 5-inch miss.
“I don’t even know what to say,” added Mickelson, who finished at 1-under in a tie for 65th. “I wasn’t really having my best day focus-wise.”