On Wednesday, Kevin Na posted an Instagram story showing how much he wanted to see his name etched into the granite Wall of Champions at venerable Colonial Country Club. All week, he talked about how Hogan’s Alley was one of a handful of courses on the PGA Tour where he could still win, bomb-and-gouge not being his specialty and all. Then on Saturday night, sleeping on a two-stroke lead, he said he figured he needed to shoot three under in the final round in order to win.
Na did one better, firing—as in at one flag after another—a four-under 66 to cruise to a four-shot win over Tony Finau on Sunday at the Charles Schwab Challenge. The victory was the third tour win of Na’s career and second in the last 10 months.
That it would come at Colonial is hardly a surprise. In his last two trips to Fort Worth’s claustrophobic, tree-lined track, Na has notched three rounds of 62 or better, which included one during Friday’s second round to help set the stage for his eventual runaway.
“Well, according to the stats, they say this is a golf course that I've had the most leads in a tournament,” the 35-year-old from South Korea said Sunday. “I’ve had a lead at some point in [this] tournament the most out of all the tournaments I played. That tells you how much I like this place and how well I played here.”
It’s no wonder a player of Na’s ilk would thrive at Colonial. Though there was an eclectic mix of contenders on the leader board on Sunday, including long-hitting Tony Finau, ageless veteran Jim Furyk and a star in search of a confidence-boosting victory in Jordan Spieth (more on him later), Na’s accuracy off the tee and precision iron play are traits rewarded by the many right-to-left shot shapes (his preference) that the venerable course requires.
That he won coming off a missed cut at the PGA Championship shouldn’t be a stunner, either. Na’s performance at the brute that is Bethpage Black meant little in the way of foreshadowing. “After I missed the cut last week by one shot at a golf course I feel like I have zero chance at, I was not happy,” Na explained. “But I felt like getting rest last weekend and because I felt like I was going to contend this week, I think helped me.”
It helped, too, that even though Na entered Sunday’s final round just one-for-five in converting wins when leading after 54 holes, last July he rallied to win at The Greenbrier, another course he feels that suits his game well. After going six years without a victory—and posting six runner-up finishes along the way—The Greenbrier win gave him the confidence he could do it again when the time was right.
In today’s long-ball era, a trip to Colonial was it.
“I feel like this week was the next chance at a win, next time I legitimately could contend and I won,” said Na, who had six birdies, just two bogeys and shot the second-best score of the day on Sunday. “I felt so much more comfortable.”
And then there was Spieth.
A week after tying for third at the PGA, the 25-year-old three-time major champ entered the final round of the Schwab just two strokes back of Na, on a golf course that Spieth had won at in 2016 and played well throughout his career. But two strokes would be as close as he got all afternoon.
After three days of career putting at Colonial, the hole started to look small, Spieth said. It wasn’t long before his chances disappeared entirely.
A missed 12-footer for birdie on the par-5 first; a bogey on the second after a wayward tee shot into a fairway bunker forced him to lay up on the par 4; and another pulled tee shot that led to another bogey on the seventh put Spieth in a hole he couldn’t dig out from. The victory drought he was hoping to end, one that dated back to the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, would continue.
Even when Spieth did hit it straight, the putts didn’t drop like they had the first three days. “Just a tough start,” he said. “Felt like I only missed four swings today. Felt like I hit the ball better today. I putted the same as every other round.”
Except he didn’t, at least not when it came to the ball going in the hole.
After gaining nearly 5½ strokes on the greens in the first round, and being on the positive side of the ledger each of the next two, Spieth was an disappointing -1.940 in strokes gained/putting on Sunday.
“That can happen on random days,” said the Texan, who shot 72 (slightly better than his season-long final-round scoring average of 72.9) and made his lone birdie of the day on the 18th to tie for eighth.
Indeed. A hot putter will only carry a player for so long and take him so far, particularly given some of the places that Spieth has hit the ball this year.
A tie for third at Bethpage (of all places) was Spieth’s first top-10 of the season. He now has a second, albeit it didn’t come precisely the way he had hoped.
Even if Spieth’s putter hadn’t gone cold on Sunday, the way Na was playing Jordan would have had to have shot a closing 64 to get into a playoff, a 63 to win outright. Given the day’s low score was a 65, a Spieth rally wasn’t meant to be.
But does he consider this progress?
“I think I made progress this week,” Spieth said. “I know exactly what I need to work on before I start on Thursday next week [at the Memorial Tournament] in my swing to make it even better.”
Apparently then, both Na and Spieth walk away from Colonial with confidence in their games, which is important with two major championships and the FedEx Cup playoffs to play for in the next three months.
The difference? Na’s confidence comes with a title and a seven-figure check. Spieth’s requires a little more faith.