JACKSON, Mississippi: Whether it was sheer confidence or remarkable resilience, Mackenzie Hughes never doubted he would win the Sanderson Farms Championship. He just never imagined how it would unfold Sunday evening.
Hughes had to make six key putts on the final seven holes — four of them for par — to outlast Sepp Straka on the second playoff hole for his second PGA Tour victory.
“The second one felt a lot harder than the first one, that’s for sure,” Hughes said.
The 31-year-old Canadian renowned for his putter finally made birdie his third time playing the 18th hole at the Country Club of Jackson, pouring in an 8-footer for the win.
But this was as much about pars — the 15-footer on the par-5 14th, the 7-foot putt on the 16th after he couldn’t reach the green from a fairway bunker, and two tough par saves on the 18th hole from 100 feet behind the green in regulation and from a bunker on the first playoff hole.
“I kept telling myself the whole week that I was going to do it. That was the only thing I saw in my mind,” Hughes said. “Those par saves down the stretch, I was just trying to will the ball into the hole.”
The first par save on the 18th gave him a 3-under 69 to force a playoff against Straka, who played two groups ahead of Hughes and shot 67 to post at 17-under 271.
On the second playoff hole, Straka missed from 18 feet on the fringe before Hughes made the winning putt. It was the second time in his last four tournaments that Straka lost in a playoff. The other was against Will Zalatoris at the start of the PGA Tour postseason.
“I played good golf on a tough Sunday,” said Straka, who picked up his first PGA Tour title earlier this year at the Honda Classic. “Giving yourself chances to win out here it key. The more you can do that, the more comfortable you’ll be.”
For Hughes, it had been six years since his lone victory — also in a playoff — at Sea Island.
“I was fighting like hell to stay in it,” Hughes said. “Finishing second, while it’s still great, it kind of stings when you’re that close. I just wasn’t going to accept that today.”
The victory comes one week after the Presidents Cup, and Hughes was disappointed not to be included on the International team at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives. He wanted to use that as motivation, and it sure worked out that way.
Garrick Higgo of South Africa had a 68 and finished third.
Straka took the lead by getting up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 14th and the reachable par-4 15th. He had to settle for pars the rest of the day.
Hughes had those scoring holes still to play, and he nearly squandered the chance. On the 14th, he was out of position off the tee, his wedge over a tree back toward the fairway came up short in a bunker, he had to lay up again and escaped with a 15-foot par putt.
On the closing hole, he was well left off the tee and punched under a tree and over the green against the grandstand. After free relief, he used putter from 100 feet away off the green with perfect pace to 3 feet for.
On the first playoff hole at the 18th, Hughes came up short in a bunker with only about 15 feet from the edge of the bunker to the pin. He blasted out to 5 feet and made par.
That sent them back to the 18th for a third time, and Hughes closed him out.
Mark Hubbard, who went into the final round with a one-shot lead, managed only two birdies in his round of 74 and tied for fifth.
The final round featured five players who had at least a share of the lead at some point. That included Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, whose round came undone on the par-5 14th when he took a triple bogey without a penalty shot.
Higgo never was part of the lead, though he lingered the entire day and missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th that ultimately kept him out of the playoff.