When Jordan Spieth closed with a sizzling final-round 64 at last year’s Masters, would anyone have expected that 12 months later he’d still be looking for his first victory since the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale? Or the flip side, after going out in 42 during the third round at last week’s Valero Texas Open that Spieth would close the day with a back-nine 31?
Golf is highly unpredictable, even when it seems completely predictable. Sometimes there’s not much rhyme or reason to it. Just hanging in and knowing (if not hoping) there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Take Corey Conners.
In his second start of the 2018-’19 season last fall, he finished second at the Sanderson Farms Championship. His two starts before and after? Missed cuts.
Conners really has this roller-coaster act down to an art, though.
In March 2018, then a wide-eyed rookie on the PGA Tour, he held a one-stroke lead over Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker after 54 holes at the Valspar Championship. But he shot a closing 77, the finish, in part at least, costing him full status for the 2018-’19 season after he’d ended the year 130th in the FedEx Cup standings.
This year hasn’t been much different. The 27-year-old Canadian native has managed to scrap together eight starts, but has missed the cut five times. And yet he also had a tie for third at the Sony Open in Hawaii. And on Sunday he did even better, winning the Valero Texas Open for his first professional victory anywhere.
In doing so, Conners became the first Monday qualifier to win on the PGA Tour since Arjun Atwal at the 2010 Wyndham Championship and just the fifth player to do it since 1980.
(Did we mention that he also emerged from a 6-for-1 playoff in Monday qualifying just to earn a spot in the field in San Antonio?)
“I will not be playing in Monday qualifiers, which is pretty awesome,” Conners said after a final-round 66 to finish his week at TPC San Antonio at 20 under par and two strokes clear of runner-up Charley Hoffman.
More awesome? A trip to Augusta National for the Masters, which he’ll play for the second time this coming week after missing the cut as an amateur in 2015 following a runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Amateur.
“I don't think it’s sunk in,” he said after a spirited embrace with his wife Malory. “It just doesn’t seem real. It’s pretty amazing.”
Making it even more amazing was how Conners survived yet another roller coaster.
Early in the final round at the Valero it looked like he’d run away with the tournament thanks to four birdies in his first five holes to break away from playing partners Hoffman and Si Woo Kim. Then came four straight bogeys, which included blowing a bunker shot across the green on the par-3 seventh as well as a bogey on the par-5 eighth.
But the ride wasn’t over for Conners. He rebounded by stuffing his approach shots tight to set up easy birdies on 10 and 11, then added another with a 34-foot bomb on 12. Three more birdies followed over his next five holes, including on 16 and 17, and the closing 30 proved the difference.
And made for a change of plans.
Conners and his wife were scheduled to fly back to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and relax at home during Masters week. Not so fast.
“It’s funny, we were in the hotel room here [Sunday] morning and my wife got the email to check in for our flight home [Monday] morning,” Conners said. “I was like, ‘Don’t check in for that quite yet. I’ve got different plans.’ ”
Next stop: Augusta, Ga.