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Inspired by buddy JT, Kaufman back at event he won

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LAS VEGAS – Two years ago, Smylie Kaufman won his first PGA Tour title at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, played all four majors, and advanced to the third leg of the FedExCup Playoffs.

But he took a large step back last season, missing more cuts than he made (14 of 26), missing all four majors, and missing the postseason altogether.

While missing the playoffs wasn’t what he intended, the time between the regular-season finale and the start of the 2017-18 season gave Kaufman an opportunity to work on his game and to start playing golf and stop playing golf swing, as he says he did all last year.

The early results look promising.

After a making the cut at the Safeway and skipping the Asian swing, Kaufman returned to competition last week at the Sanderson Farms Championship, where he tied for fourth. It was his best finish on Tour since he won exactly two years ago.

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I’ve put a lot of hard work in this offseason getting ready for this year,” Kaufman said Wednesday at Shriners. “The game is as good as it’s been up to this point in my career. … I actually had time to go and fix all the things that were going wrong last year.”

Kaufman returns to TPC Summerlin looking to once again contend on a golf course that previously yielded him a final-round 61.

And even though last season didn’t work out the way he wanted, Kaufman did concede that he felt inspired by his buddy Justin Thomas.

“It was great,” he said. “I didn’t know Jordan as well when he went on his run a few years back. Obviously, I’m great friends with him now. JT – I’ve always known JT. For me, it was fun to watch his game progress to watch we thought it could be.

“Just watching the way he’s prepared, and what he’s done on and off the golf course, it makes me think that if I keep working on the stuff I’m working and if I put myself a position mentally where you feel like a brick wall out there – that’s the next step for me.”