Golf: Patton Kizzire finally breaks through with Utah Championship win

First Published      Last Updated Jul 20 2016 07:49 pm

Former Auburn University golfer Kizzire beats South Korea’s Kang in playoff.

Lehi • The roar of applause was music to Patton Kizzire's ears, as sweet-sounding as a well-struck 5-iron or the clanking sound when a putt finds the bottom of the cup.

It calmed his rapidly beating heart and, more importantly, signaled a healthy good riddance to the self-described monkey that had been camped on his back for the better part of the Web.com Tour season.

The roar came from the crowd gathered around the 18th green at the Golf Club at Thanksgiving Point after Kizzire stuck his 60-degree wedge shot within a couple feet of the hole from 65 yards out. He went on to make the short birdie putt on that second playoff hole, edging South Korea's Sung Kang for the $117,000 first-place check and putting his name on the inaugural Billy Casper Cup.

"I love hearing the loud roars," said Kizzire, who was considerably below the hole and not sure how good the shot was. "That's when you know you are close."

The "General" as he is known on the tour, capped a sensational week that heated up when he broke the course record with a 62 on Friday to vault to the top of the leaderboard.

Kang, 28, made things interesting with a rally on the back nine, touring the tougher nine with five birdies to overcome what was a four-shot deficit at the turn. It was Kang's second straight second-place finish in the tournament, matching his accomplishment at Willow Creek Country Club last year.

"I played great today," Kang said, after carding a 67 to Kizzire's 69 in regulation. "I did what I needed to do. … I just couldn't get a putt to drop on those last few holes."

The tournament turned into match play down the stretch, because Kizzire and Kang separated themselves from the pack by about the 14th hole. Kang birdied the 17th hole to tie it up, and actually had a slightly closer putt on No. 18 in regulation than Kizzire did, but it just slid by the hole.

"I thought I had made it," he said later.

There was a five-way tie for third at 14-under par as Zack Fischer, Garth Mulroy, Alex Aragon, Tag Ridings and Scott Harrington finished at 274. Lucas Lee's 64 was the low round of the day and vaulted him into a three-way tie for eighth at 275 with Stephan Jaeger and Ryan Blaum.

But the first Utah Championship at sun-baked Thanksgiving Point — tour officials insisted on the dried-out, fast conditions — will be remembered for the way the tour's leading money winner broke through for his first win of the season after two second-place finishes and eight placings in the top 10. Kizzire's lead for the money title is now $123,211 over Peter Malnati, who did not make the cut, and he avoided the possible distinction of becoming the first money leader to never have won a tournament.

Kizzire said he was "pretty relieved and excited" to win the tournament, but the relief wasn't in knowing he made enough clutch shots down the stretch when Kang was making him earn everything he got.

"The relief is from far before today," he said. "I've been really close to winning a lot. Last year, playing various mini-tours, I finished second 11 times before I won [at Columbia, S.C.]. So the victories seem to be a little sweeter after all the near-misses."

Kizzire actually lost the two-shot lead with which he entered the day. He bogeyed the first hole while Kang birdied the first two to get to 16-under. Kizzire kept his composure "after not getting the start I envisioned" and birdied hole Nos. 3, 5, 7 and 9 to regain control.

"Winning a tournament and winning the money title are two goals I have this year," Kizzire said. "To finally get the win in a tournament like this was huge. … With kind of the monkey off my back, I feel like I will be able to play a little bit looser and not worry too much about the outcome."

On 18 in regulation and again on the first playoff hole, Kizzire pushed his tee shot left. It went past the cart path and into a rocky area on the first playoff hole, but he somehow managed to find the green with his approach and then survived when Kang left a 20-foot shot.

"Sometimes I don't hit it in the best spots, so I get a lot of practice out of weird situations," Kizzire said of the recovery. "So that was nice to get it on the green. … It was sitting pretty bad."

Finally, on the second playoff hole, also on 18, Kizzire found the fairway after not even thinking about hitting anything but driver off the tee. After Kang missed an 18-footer, Kizzire's 3-footer sealed the deal — finally.

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» The Web.com Tour’s leading money-winner, Patton Kizzire, breaks through at Thanksgiving Point with his first win in 2015 after recording eight top-10 finishes on the tour prior to Sunday.

» Kizzire makes a birdie on the second playoff hole to edge South Korea’s Sung Kang after both golfers shoot 19-under-par 269 in regulation.