Taylor Pendrith nabs first PGA Tour win after wild finish at CJ Cup

Kevin Robbins / PGATOUR.COM

McKINNEY, TX — The sun broke loose at last over THE CJ CUP Byron Nelson. It shone directly on Taylor Pendrith.

After a wrenching sequence of holes that saw his one-shot lead tied on the 16th and lost on the 17th, the 32-year-old Canadian holed a short putt for birdie Sunday at the par-5 finisher to win his first PGA TOUR title in 74 starts. He shot a final-round 67 to finish at 23-under par on a steamy, soggy TPC Craig Ranch and beat Ben Kohles by one.

Pendrith held the lead of much of the day, which dawned with threatening clouds after 1.9 inches of rain fell overnight.

He lost that lead at the par-4 eighth, when he made bogey and Kohles made birdie. That was about the time the sun appeared for the first time. Minutes later, Pendrith two-putted for birdie on the par-5 ninth; Kohles made par. They were tied at the turn, with names like Jake Knapp, Matt Wallace, Alex Noren and Aaron Rai close behind.

Forecasters expected more rain — typical for North Texas in May. But none fell. The air at times was nearly still, a rare occurrence at the annual springtime affair bearing the name of one of the greatest competitors in the history of tournament golf. After three days of spitting mist and overcast skies, the final nine holes were airy and bright.

The other contenders faded late. Not Pendrith or Kohles. Pendrith holed gritty putts for par at the par-4 16th and the par-3 17th, holes Kohles birdied. But Kohles mismanaged a short greenside shot from deep rough on the last, then missed the 5-foot par putt that would’ve forced a playoff.

Pendrith said it happened so fast, going from thinking he had to make eagle to tie to steeling himself over a 3-footer to win. He banged it home.

“It was all a blur, the last hour,” Pendrith said. “To finally get it done feels unbelievable.”

At about the time Pendrith was marking his ball on the last green, his friend Mackenzie Hughes loped from the locker room with three cans of cold Miller Lite in his grasp. Pendrith’s friend, fellow countryman and former teammate at Kent State made his way through the crowd to watch the long-awaited triumph. He gave the beverages to Pendrith (although he did pour a little on Pendrith’s shirt first in celebration) and his caddie, and kept one for himself.

“This is a weird game we play,” Hughes said. “I’m guessing Taylor thought the same thing. He was there, ready for the opportunity.”

It was a gesture he felt he owed Pendrith. When Hughes was in contention at the 2016 RSM Classic, Pendrith got up early and drove four hours to watch. Hughes won.

“He needs to go enjoy it,” said Hughes, a two-time TOUR winner. “They’re few and far between.”

The win means 500 FedExCup points for Pendrith, vaulting him 57 spots to 34th in the rankings. He won $1.7 million and a two-year exemption. It means he and his wife Megan, who planned on a beach getaway next week, have to sort travel to Charlotte for the Wells Fargo Championship, a Signature Event. Everything has changed.

“I’ve held the 54-hole lead before and haven’t got it done,” Pendrith said. “Learned a lot from that and tried to be a little better today and stay in my own lane and just put my head down and go to work. To come out on top feels unreal.”

He made a tough, snaking putt on the 17th to stay a shot behind Kohles. Both players hit good drives on the 18th. Only Pendrith found the green in two. Kohles didn’t accelerate enough through his own putt — “You live and learn,” he said — and the stakes swung back to Pendrith.

The putt for birdie was longer than he wanted. He breathed deep and steadied himself over the ball. He tried not to think of how much it mattered.

“This is the straightest putt you’ve had all year,” his caddie told him. “Just knock it in.”

Pendrith didn’t used to consider mental fortitude a strength. But he said he’d been seeing a mental coach for about six weeks, “just working on acceptance.” He reminded himself of their work as he settled over the career-changing putt. Moments later, he was being cheered by the gallery. His wife and young son, Hayes, were trotting out to meet him for a hug.

“We were supposed to be going to Myrtle Beach,” Megan Pendrith said. “Now we have to figure out how we’re going to get to Charlotte and where we’re going to stay.”

She caught herself and smiled.

“All wonderful problems,” she said.

The next hour was another blur. Pendrith participated in his first trophy presentation. He did his first interviews as a TOUR winner. He shook a lot of hands. He had another beer.

“Doesn’t feel real yet,” he said.

Then there he was, sitting at a table with a microphone, answering questions about how it all felt and what it all meant. He narrated his round, emphasizing his routine, explaining his struggle with a shoulder injury, musing about the grind, recalling the missed cuts, complimenting Kohles on his play, marveling at the cruelty of golf, basking in its glory.

“You know, it feels unbelievable, and to see some of those names on this trophy, it’s crazy,” Pendrith said. “I still can’t believe that I’m a winner of this tournament.”

Fairways Magazine

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