CHINESE TAIPEI’S Kevin Yu flirted with a maiden PGA TOUR victory with a scintillating final round of 9-under 63 before settling a career-equaling best finish of tied third at The American Express yesterday.
The 25-year-old Yu, a former world amateur No. 1, was near flawless at PGA West Stadium Course with 10 birdies against a closing bogey which ultimately dashed his hopes of a career breakthrough.
The US$8.4 million tournament was sensationally won by 20-year-old Nick Dunlap, who became the first amateur since 1991 to win a PGA TOUR tournament as he ground out a 70 to edge South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout by a single stroke with his 29-under winning total.
Japanese rookie Ryo Hisatsune, who earned his playing rights on the PGA TOUR through the DP World Tour Top 10 last season, continued his strong start to 2024 by finishing T11 on 23-under, while Korean trio Sungjae Im, K.H. Lee and 2021 American Express winner Si Woo Kim shared 25th place on 19-under.
After missing four months of action early last year with a knee surgery, the talented Yu displayed his immense potential once more by soaring into contention with an outward 30. He made four more birdies through 16 to jostle for the lead but a costly bogey on 18 after he found the fairway bunker eventually saw him finish two back.
“I was so glad to shoot a nine-under round, it was beyond my expectation,” said a delighted Yu, who shared third place with Xander Schauffele (65) and Justin Thomas (68). “I had great feelings with my swing and my putting worked really well. I hope I can keep the good momentum and become a winner soon.”
A majority of Yu’s 10 birdies, which is a career best haul during a round, were from inside of 10 feet and the longest putt came on the 14th hole when he rolled in a 19-footer to earn a share of the lead for the first time in the final round.
He was disappointed to drop his only bogey after finding the fairway trap on 18 with a three wood. “The club was a bit open, and it found the bunker on the right. That bunker was quite deep, so I could only hit it back out onto the fairway and I then misjudged the distance for my third due to the wind, so it came short and I made a bogey which was a pity,” said Yu, who also finished T3 at the 2022 Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
He is now looking forward to the Farmers Insurance Open which begins on Wednesday at Torrey Pines. The PGA TOUR University graduate said he added a new team member to sharpen his course management skills after missing the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week.
“Last week I added one consultant to my team who gave me advice on course strategy. That was helpful and gave me great confidence. I hope I can do well in the coming week,” he said.
Dunlap, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion who was competing on a sponsor’s exemption, produced a gutsy up-and-down par save on the last for an historic victory over a stellar field which featured 21 players in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, including World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. He also became the youngest winner at the age of 20 years and 29 days on TOUR since 1910.
“It’s everything that I dreamed of and just to have a chance on the last hole to win a PGA TOUR event is really special. I was so nervous (on the last hole). It’s a really cool spot to be in as an amateur, and just to be here and be given the opportunity to play, and I don’t ever want to forget today,” said Dunlap, who is in his sophomore year in University of Alabama.
With a two-year exemption on offer to all PGA TOUR winners plus guaranteed starts in all the Signature events and THE PLAYERS Championship, Dunlap will take his time to determine if he is to join the play-for-pay ranks soon. “That’s something it doesn’t just affect me, it affects a lot of people, coach back there and my teammates, and it’s a conversation I need to have with a lot of people before I make that decision,” he said.