LAS VEGAS – Kevin Na won the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday for his first PGA Tour title, birdieing Nos. 15-17 to pull away for a two-stroke victory over Nick Watney.
The 28-year-old Na closed with a 6-under 65 for a tournament-record 23-under 261 total at TPC Summlerin in the Fall Series opener. Watney, a two-time winner this year, shot a 67.
Tied for the lead with Watney entering the round, Na sealed the breakthrough victory with a 42-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th. Na and Watney both parred the par-4 18th.
'I'm just very excited about my first win,' said Na, who started playing golf a year after his family moved to the United States from South Korea when he was 8. 'It wasn't easy. Nick was coming right behind me. It looked like any time he was going to make a move, and I tried the best that I could to stay one step ahead of him. I think the putt on 17 basically sealed the deal for me.'
The winner had five birdies and a bogey on the front nine to reach 21 under. He parred the first four holes on the back nine, then dropped a stroke on the par-3 14th to fall into a tie with Watney.
'I hit a terrible shot on 14,' Na said. 'I should have backed off. I always back off, but I felt, 'I'm going to hit this.' And I hit a terrible shot and made bogey.
'To bounce back after that bogey, to hit that chip to 3 feet – I had a great chip from down there – I was able to relax a little bit. Then I had a great two-putt for birdie on the next hole. It gave me a one-shot lead. I told myself par, par, you're going to win this golf tournament.'
Na pulled ahead with his birdie on the par-4 15th and both players birdied the par-5 16th.
'Fifteen was definitely disappointing to not make birdie,' Watney said. 'I would love to have that bunker shot back. ... Sixteen, I played very nice. Seventeen, I hit a good shot then he made a 40-footer. That kind of stuff happens when you win. It's tough to beat.
'One thing I relearned this week was how serious I was taking it, how badly I wanted to play well the last couple of months. That doesn't always translate into good golf, so this week I came here with no expectations. I took it very easy and played pretty nice.'
Na and Watney broke the record by two strokes in the event that switched from 90 to 72 holes in 2004.
'This golf course, you have to get off to a good start,' said Na, who earned $792,000. 'The reason why is because like all the guys out here say, 'You have to go low, and if you're not making birdies, somebody else is.' So, if you're even par through six you feel like you're two shots behind everybody, and it puts more pressure into your back nine.
'I was able to get off to a great start and stay ahead of the game, and I think that was the key for me to be cruising through to the victory. The third hole, I made it off the fringe and I said, 'I'm 3 under through four; this is looking really good.''