Corey Conners Earns 1st Career Win with Victory at 2019 Valero Texas Open

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2019

Corey Conners watches his drive on the second hole during the final round of the Texas Open golf tournament, Sunday, April 7, 2019, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

The term underdog is thrown around a lot in the sports world, but fans would be hard-pressed to find a bigger underdog story for an individual golf tournament than Corey Conners' performance at the 2019 Valero Texas Open.

The Canadian shot a six-under 66 in Sunday's final round at TPC San Antonio to clinch the first victory of his PGA Tour career.

He missed the cut in five of his previous six tour events, but it just wasn't the dramatic turnaround from his recent showings that made the win so impressive. The only reason he was even in the field was his effort in Monday's qualifier when he emerged from a six-man playoff for the final spot in the tournament.

Adam Schupak of PGATour.com noted 73 players competed for the final four spots in the field during the qualifier, and Conners became the first to parlay his qualifying showing into a win at the tournament since Arjun Atwal did so at the 2010 Wyndham Championship.

"I feel like I belong in the field," Conners said after Saturday, per Schupak.

The 27-year-old more than just belonged, clearing second-place finisher Charley Hoffman by two strokes. Here is a look at the top of the leaderboard, per PGATour.com:

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1. Corey Conners, -20

2. Charley Hoffman, -18

3. Ryan Moore, -17

T4. Si Woo Kim, -15

T4. Brian Stuard, -15

6. Kevin Streelman, -14

T7. Graeme McDowell, -12

T7. Byeong Hun An, -12

T7. Jason Kokrak, -12

T7. Danny Lee, -12

T7. Adam Schenk, -12

T7. Matt Kuchar, -12

T7. Scott Brown, -12

        

Some golfers win tournaments with a steady run of pars and timely birdies, but Conners elected the roller-coaster approach instead.

He hinted at the streaks to come with birdies on four of his final five holes in the second round and birdies on five of his first seven holes in the third round. It appeared as if he would run away with the tournament when he birdied four of his first five holes to seize a four-stroke lead on Sunday, but that momentum was short-lived.

Conners bogeyed the final four holes of the front nine, which opened the door for Hoffman to take the lead just by playing steady golf with seven pars and two birdies on the front nine.

It also created an opening for Kevin Streelman, who pulled into a three-way tie with a long birdie on No. 17. He started the day nine back of the lead but stormed up the leaderboard with five birdies on the front nine and four straight birdies on Nos. 14 through 17 to put himself in position to potentially win before the last hole.

However, his third shot on the par-five 18th went into the spectators, and he fell out of contention with a bogey.

Streelman wasn't the only one to join the Conners-Hoffman battle, as Ryan Moore pulled into a tie for the lead with an eagle on the second and three straight birdies on the 14th, 15th and 16th.

Conners always had an answer, though, and birdied the 14th, drained perhaps the biggest putt of the entire tournament to save par on the 15th and then birdied the 16th and 17th to create much-needed breathing room for the first-time winner.

That it was Conners and not Si Woo Kim with the breathing room on the final hole was a surprise given the way the tournament started. Kim began the third round with a four-stroke lead and appeared primed for his first PGA Tour win since the 2017 Players Championship.

A win also would have represented a turnaround after he tied for 56th at The Players Championship, tied for 61st at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play and missed the cut in January's Sony Open, February's Waste Management Phoenix Open and March's Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year.

The tournament was more about what Conners, Moore and Hoffman did than what Kim didn't do, as the latter shot a solid 69 on Saturday and 72 on Sunday. Still, Hoffman and Moore each shot a round at 64 over the weekend, and Conners came through in every clutch moment in the final round.

There were a handful of other notable names who finished off the pace as well.

Matt Kuchar was in the top 10 entering the final round, but his three-under 69 was not enough to make a Streelman-like charge and challenge the leaders. Rickie Fowler shot a three-under 69, but he and Jordan Spieth both lost their opportunities to win on moving day.

Spieth and Fowler mirrored each other and shot 68 in each of the first two rounds and were in solid position entering the weekend, but they each finished with a 73 on Saturday. Fowler can at least take solace knowing he beat Spieth on Sunday, with the latter shooting an even-par 72.

Attention now turns to the 2019 Masters, where Spieth has a victory and three other top-three finishes in the last five years and figures to be more of a threat than he was in San Antonio.