LAS VEGAS -- William McGirt said he was so unsure of his game heading into the Shriners Hospital for Children Open that he booked an airplane ticket home for Saturday, anticipating the weekend off.
"Fortunately it was a refundable ticket," said McGirt, who not only made the cut but closed with a 9-under-par 62 to finish in a tied for eighth place. The final round included a stretch of seven birdies and an eagle on the TPC Summerlin course that put McGirt in the clubhouse at 14 under par and in the lead, with the leaders still three hours behind.
The Fairmont native has won $231,900 in two starts in the new season and is 12th on the FedEx Cup list.
"I had five straight birdies the first round and six straight yesterday," McGirt told The Robesonian. " To play nine holes in 9 under was some fun. I just kept trying to ride it as long as I could. Once I got to six in a row I was trying to finish it with 11 in a row."
McGirt closed with two pars, narrowly missing a 10-footer on No. 18 that would have put him in second place with six other players.
"I would like to have that putt back," he said.
There was little to suggest that McGirt would make such a climb up the leaderboard. He said he had been "striping it" while practicing in Las Vegas before the season began but left his game on the range.
"Unfortunately, it didn't make the trip to Napa (for the Frys Open) and wasn't waiting on me when I got back to Vegas. In fact, I was feeling so confident about how I was playing this week that after I played in the pro-am Wednesday morning and spent all afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find my game, I went back to the hotel and booked a flight home for Saturday morning."
But McGirt had some weekend work, making the cut at 3 under par before shooting a 69 on Saturday to enter the last round in the middle of the pack.
"I started off kind of sluggish," McGirt said, "but I kind of found something there with the putter on eight. ... Starting where I started the day, to end up where I did, I'm tickled to death."
Sunday was the third time in two tournaments McGirt has run off at least four straight birdies, having done that in the last round of the Frys Open and twice at the Shriner's. He now has 38 birdies and two eagles in two starts this season.
McGirt's wife Sarah is pregnant with their second child, so his schedule going forward is uncertain.
On Sunday, a rookie on the tour won for the second time in two weeks.
Smylie Kaufman closed with a 10-under 61 and then waited more than two hours to see if anyone could catch him.
"I dodged a lot of bullets coming down the stretch with guys coming," said Kaufman, who had seven birdies and one eagle over the final 11 holes. "So much more stressful than on the course. So much worse. I felt like I was watching an LSU football game."
Kevin Na played a role in both rookies winning.
Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open last week, and Na made it easier on him in the second playoff hole at Silverado by taking bogey on the par-5 18th.
This time, Na caught Kaufman with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole, only to flub a chip just short of the par-3 17th and make bogey. His 15-foot birdie putt to force a playoff caught part of the right lip and kept going.
Kaufman, a 23-year-old from LSU, played the last four holes in 4 under. That included his 3-wood to 15 feet for eagle on the par-4 15th, and a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole that turned out to be the winner.
Two other rookies, Brett Stegmaier (69) and Patton Kizzire (63), were part of a six-way tie for second.
Kaufman was on the range, on the phone, and in a tent watching nervously on TV over the final hour. Cameron Tringale (66) and Jason Bohn (66) each had birdie putts to force a playoff, with Bohn's 40-foot attempt narrowly missing.
The victory sends Kaufman to Augusta National next April for the Masters. He also gets in the PGA Championship, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua to start the new year and The Players Championship.
Alex Cejka also tied for second after making a birdie on the 18th hole for a 66. Chad Campbell joined McGirt in eighth at 14 under.
This article was written by Donnie Douglas from The Robesonian, Lumberton, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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