The 2015-2016 PGA Tour Rookie Class may be one of the best in history.
One week after Emiliano Grillo won the Frys.com Open in his first start as a PGA Tour player, Smylie Kaufman fired a final round 61 and held off an entire tournament of players to win the Shriners Hospital for Children Open, his fifth ever PGA Tour start and second as a member on Tour.
Kaufman had eight birdies and an eagle to card his career best 61 which included a 29 on the back nine. Kaufman had to sit around and stay loose for two hours as he waited for everyone else to finish the tournament. At one point, Kaufman went to the driving range to prepare in case of a playoff.
Many gave him a run, but a playoff would not be necessary.
Kaufman finished sixth on the Web.com Tour money list last season, a season that included a win. In his first start as a rookie, he snuck inside the top 10 last week. Needless to say, the LSU product is feeling pretty good about his game right now.
Kaufman had to fight of six players, all who finished one shot back in the runner up position. The one that is feeling the pain the most right now is Kevin Na. One week after losing in a playoff to Grillo, Na once again saw himself lose to a rookie on the PGA Tour. Na looked to be poised to catch Kaufman after a birdie on 13, but he was unable to convert for birdie from inside six feet on the 15th. Na made a long putt for birdie on the par five 16th to tie Kaufman, but on the very next hole, Na hit his approach shot short of the green and stubbed the pitch shot which lead to a bogey. Na was unable to birdie the 18th hole, and he leaves Vegas with his eighth runner up finish on the PGA Tour. Na is still looking for his second PGA Tour victory, and first since 2011.
Another player that finished runner up was Alex Cejka. The 2015 Puerto Rico Open champion finished last season with four straight missed cuts and a T39 finish. In fact, Cejka's only top 10 finish last week was his victory, so his runner up finish this week has to make him feel good about his game moving forward.
A pair of rookies finished one back of Kaufman, including good friend Patton Kizzire, who shot a final round 63 to put himself in contention in his first start as a rookie. Kizzire was the money list champion on the Web.com Tour last season, and in his most recent start, he finished T4 at the Web.com Tour Championship. Kizzire only played in four PGA Tour tournaments prior to this week, and only made the cut once.
The other rookie to finish runner up was overnight leader Brett Stegmaier. Stegmaier, who shot four rounds in the 60's including a final round 69, was a surprise contender. After a rough Web.com Tour season, Stegmaier earned his card thanks to two top 10 finishes in the Web.com Tour Finals. He finished T74 in his first start as a rookie last week, but looked solid all week this week in order to grab his first ever PGA Tour top five finish.
Cameron Tringale, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, was the fifth player to finish T2. Tringale now has 15 career top 10 finishes and two runner ups, including last year's Zurich Classic.
The final player at T2 was Jason Bohn. Bohn has begun the 2015-2016 season with two straight top five finishes, but he was also a shot out of a playoff in both events. Bohn had six top 10s and two runner up finishes last season, and has had at least one runner up every season since 2010. Still, the 42 year old is seeking his third PGA Tour victory, and he hasn't won since 2010.
A pair of journeyman players finished T8. William McGirt, still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, fired a final round 62, including a run of six straight birdies. Chad Campbell, who is searching for his first win in eight years, breaks a streak of three consecutive missed cuts with his first top 10 since the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Russell Henley rounded out the top 10.