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Conners Proves Dreams Can Come True as Kupcho Wows Augusta

By: | Mon 08 Apr 2019 | Comments

COREY CONNERS grabbed the last available spot for this week’s Masters when he won the Valero Texas Open in dramatic style at TPC San Antonio, becoming the first Monday qualifier since 2010 to claim a PGA Tour title.

"It was crazy," said Conners, who made 29 birdies during the week and finished with a 66 for a 268 total, 20 under par. "I couldn't even tell you what I shot on the back nine.” He birdied four of the first five holes before dropping shots at the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth to seemingly throw away his winning opportunity. But then he caught fire on the back nine, with birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 16th and 17th as he came home in a remarkable 30 shots to see off the challenge of Charley Hoffman.

The Canadian was the last man to enter the field, surviving a seven-man playoff in a Monday qualifier to become just the fifth player in Tour history to go from earning a spot in the field on Monday to champion on Sunday. When Conners arrived a week ago, his clubs didn't make the flight and so he didn't get to play a practice round at The Club at Sonterra, where 73 players attempted to earn one of four spots into the field. It was just another manic Monday for Conners, who for the third time this season made it through qualifying in six attempts.

Conners finished 130th in the FedExCup standings in 2017-18 as a rookie. He finished second at the Sanderson Farms Championship in late October, a week after getting married to Malory, and T3 at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January. But he also had missed the cut in four of his last five starts. Now, he no longer has to worry about any of that.

He opened with rounds of 69 and 67, followed it with a 66 and trailed 54-hole leader Si Woo Kim by one heading into the final round. After a two-hour weather delay, Conners birdied four of his first five holes to claim a four-stroke lead. He looked unstoppable, but tby the time he walked off the ninth green with his fourth straight bogey, he trailed Hoffman by one. Conners made only one par on the front nine.

"I just tried to think back to the last few days," he said, "all the great shots that I've hit and just say, 'Hey, you can do it, just stay aggressive and trust yourself.' "

Conners reeled off three birdies to start the back nine, including a 34-foot birdie putt at the 12th. "At that point, I thought, 'We're going to do this, just keep your foot on the pedal,'" he said.

Up ahead, Kevin Streelman birdied four of the final five holes to shoot a 64 and post 14 under. His sixth-place finish is his best result this season. But he was soon eclipsed by Ryan Moore, who started birdie-eagle and matched Streelman's 64. Moore signed for 17 under and finished alone in third. Kim played superbly for three days but struggled from the moment he found the water at the third. He carded an even-par 72 and finished tied for fourth with Brian Stuard at 15-under.

Conners added birdies at the 14th, 16th and 17th to shoot a tournament-record 20-under 268, but later said the 10-foot par save at the 15th was critical. TV cameras caught the look of relief on the face of his wife, which soon went viral on social media. "I know her emotions are pretty crazy," Conners said. "She was cheering hard for me. It was awesome to see.” Conners finished with a par, just his fourth of the day -- "That's got to be the fewest pars I've ever made," he said -- as he toured the second nine in 30.  

"I thought shooting three-under par on the back nine with a one-shot lead might be good enough, but I got beat today and it just happens," Hoffman said. "My hat's off to him. He played his butt off."

Conners became the fifth international winner on the PGA Tour in as many weeks and the first Monday qualifier to do so since Arjun Atwal at the 2010 Wyndham Championship. As PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said to him: "This is a life-changing moment for you and it was really great to witness it in person."

Instead of heading home, Conners is now headed to Augusta, the last man to claim his place at the Masters, where he competed as an amateur in 2015 and missed the cut.

History is Made at Augusta

Jennifer Kupcho made a little piece of golfing history when she shot a final round of 67 to claim the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur.

A total of 30 golfers emerged from the first two days of competition to play the final round at the home of The Masters. There was a sense of history being made at a club which did not admit female members until only seven years ago.

"I've played in big crowds before, Curtis Cups and things like that but even when we were hitting tee-shots out there we were getting applauded," Northern Ireland's Olivia Mehaffy said. "And you could hear the people around being like 'whoa!' Maybe they weren't aware of what we can do.  I mean we hit it far, we hit it good and we can hit those shots around the greens and hole those putts. I think it's very special for them to get to witness that."

Mehaffey, who shot a four-over-par 76 to finish 23rd, said the process of making it through the first two rounds at the nearby Champions Retreat course had been tough. "I've never felt that kind of pressure," she said. "You play week in, week out to make the cut and that's a normal thing but to play for the cut and have this on the other side that was just a completely different ball game. This is huge, it opens up so many doors."

She was one of two British players to make the final 30. Berkhamstead's Alice Hewson carded a level-par 72 despite a double-bogey at the  last to finish in a share of 10th place.

"I had a really great time out there," the 21-year-old told me. "The atmosphere was incredible. It's a really, really great opportunity and no one else was going to get that chance to be in the first 30 women to play here. I'm really, really grateful that I was able to be out here this week and play well."

The highlight was holing a lengthy birdie putt at the par-five 15th. "That was just incredible," she said. "The roars coming from those who could see it on 16, all down the 15th fairway and having my whole family here to be able to watch was also really good. It was from off the green too, so it was maybe 25, 30 feet."

MacLaren Narrowly Fails to Make History

England's Meghan MacLaren finished second as Daan Huizing claimed a two-shot victory at the Jordan Mixed Open. MacLaren began the day two shots ahead of Huizing and the 23-year-old had a five-shot lead after five holes. However, she struggled on the back nine, finishing 14-under-par in total, as Dutchman Huizing shot a final-round 68 to secure victory.

The tournament is the first time men and women have competed against each other for the same prize in golf. The event includes pros from the Ladies European Tour, the European Challenge Tour and seniors' Staysure Tour, with the rising male stars of the Challenge Tour facing a 7,100-yard course, the over-50s from the Staysure Tour 6,601 yards and the female players 6,139 yards.

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