Published Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 | 4:25 p.m.
Updated Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011 | 7:03 p.m.
Kevin Na approached what would turn into the most significant putt of his life with a pervading sense of calm Sunday afternoon.
It was the type of comfort a golfer rarely feels anywhere except his home course. That’s what TPC Summerlin, site of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, represents to Na.
The 28-year old local sank a 42-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole to take a two-stroke lead that he held on to for his first victory on the PGA Tour.
“The last two weeks before the tournament, I played here every day,” Na said. “Every day, I played 18 holes.”
“Obviously, I know the course and I know the greens but it was just a matter of making sure I was more comfortable with the holes and the shots I wanted to hit.”
The eight-year PGA Tour veteran outlasted fellow Las Vegas resident Nick Watney, who oddsmakers installed as the favorite coming into the tournament, to win the annual event. Na posted a 23-under, 261-stroke score over the four-day affair, which broke the previous tournament record by two.
Many players with Las Vegas ties had threatened to win the tournament in the past, but Na was the first one to break through in its 28-year history.
“I’ve got all the bragging rights,” Na joked. “I’ll watch all the boys get off of the (driving) range when I show up.”
Na likely doesn’t need to work on the putting green any time soon. His putting game is what ultimately delivered the $792,000 check for first place.
Na made birdie putts on the 15th and 16th holes before his moment on 17. It was a key three-hole swing after a bogey on 14 put Na at 20-under and tied with Watney.
A two-man race between Na and Watney played out all afternoon, as the two were paired together in the final grouping as co-leaders coming into the day. But Na finished stronger.
“He made quite a few putts today,” Watney said. “That’s tough to beat.”
Na took control by posting birdies to Watney’s pars on the first two holes of the day. But many around the course wondered if Na would collapse when the score evened on the 14th.
That was the scouting report on Na, who had frequently found himself in positions to win before Sunday but couldn’t pull through. Out of 210 career tournaments, Na had three runner-up finishes and placed in the top 10 28 times.
Na admitted to having nightmares about finishing second, but also said he believed in himself more this time around.
“I was mentally ready and physically ready,” Na said. “It was just time for me to win.”
Nabbing the win over Watney only made the triumph more impressive. Watney has put together a career-year on the PGA Tour in 2011.
He won two tournaments — the Cadillac Championship in Doral, Fla., and the AT&T National in Newtown Square, Pa. — and ranked third on the yearly money list at $5.2 million entering the week. The tournament at TPC Summerlin was the last stop on Watney’s schedule before the President’s Cup in Australia at the end of November.
“I came here with no expectations,” Watney said. “I took it very easy and played pretty nice.”
Na shared an emotional moment with his caddy, Kenny Harms, as soon as he clinched the victory. He predicted more PGA Tour wins to come now that the first is finally out of the way.
Eight years was a long time to wait, but it was worth it to Na.
“ ‘Did this week feel any different than any other week that I fell short?’ Maybe a little bit, but nothing ridiculously different,” Na said. “I think I was a little more comfortable, maybe because I was in my hometown, my home course, but I think I was definitely ready.”