Thanks to a timely birdie on the penultimate hole and a clutch par putt on the final green, Hudson Swafford got back into the winner’s circle at the Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
Swafford started the day two shots behind Adam Long, but he quickly became the man to beat in the Dominican Republic after playing the first eight holes in 5 under. At one point Swafford held a four-shot lead on the back nine, but a double bogey on No. 13 let a handful of players back into the tournament. After dropping another shot on No. 16, Swafford stepped to the tee at the par-3 17th tied for the lead with Mackenzie Hughes and Tyler McCumber.
But he went on to hit the shot of the tournament, stuffing his approach inside 15 feet to set up a decisive birdie.
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“It was kind of like the shot I hit on 17 at PGA West when I won,” Swafford said. “I was just like, ‘Man, you’ve got to step up and just hit a good, flighted 6-iron.’ I’ve done it 100,000 times, I love hitting that golf shot. And man, it was a good one and an even better putt.”
The birdie gave him a one-shot lead over McCumber heading to the final hole. Knowing that par was good enough to win, he left his lengthy birdie putt several feet short but poured in his second effort to seal a final-round 69 and his second win on Tour.
Swafford’s initial breakthrough came at the 2017 American Express in Palm Springs, but he has battled injury in recent months. The 33-year-old started this season with a major medical extension, needing to earn 105 FedExCup points in his next two starts. But thanks to the win in the D.R., he’s now fully exempt on Tour through the 2022-23 season. Since Puntacana is temporarily a full-point event, the win means he’s also into the 2021 Masters in addition to trips to Kapalua, The Players and the PGA Championship next year.
“It’s amazing. Words can’t really describe it,” Swafford said. “Last two years have been tough. Not family-wise, though, me and my wife had our first son. Life’s great, and golf is really hard. To do this, it’s fun. This is why I get up and grind.”
McCumber finished alone in second place for his best career finish on Tour, while a bogey on the final hole dropped Hughes into third place at 16 under, two shots behind Swafford. Long, who began the day with a two-shot lead, finished alone in fifth after a final-round 75 that included four bogeys over his first 10 holes.
Korn Ferry Tour member Will Zalatoris, who began the week as a betting favorite according to oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook, shot the low round of the day with a 7-under 65. That vaulted the 24-year-old into a tie for eighth at 12 under, marking the 13th straight start since June that Zalatoris has finished T-19 or better on the Korn Ferry or PGA Tour. Zalatoris also finished T-6 at the U.S. Open, and his non-member points haul in Punta Cana inched him closer to special temporary Tour membership. The top-10 finish also means that Zalatoris will have a spot in the field next week as the Tour heads to Mississippi for the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Originally scheduled for March opposite the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the Punta Cana event was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will return to its March slot on the schedule and opposite event status in 2021, making it one of three events (along with the Masters and U.S. Open) to be played twice during the Tour’s 2020-21 season.