Sanderson Farms Championship - Final Round
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Mackenzie Hughes rose above his own consistency to win the 2022 Sanderson Farms Championship in a two-hole playoff with a walk-off birdie against Sepp Straka. Hughes gutted out a 69 in regulation that concluded with a nasty up and down at the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, which he punctuated with an early fist pump that proved to be accurate. The victory, Hughes' second on the Tour, ends a drought of 155 professional starts between wins. 

When I say Hughes rose above his own consistency, here is what I mean: The Canadian is your prototypically average PGA Tour player. He makes a lot of cuts, notches a lot of top 30s and top 40s, but he rarely wins because he rarely has those standard deviation weeks needed to win on the PGA Tour. Interestingly, he had one of those last year when he gained 12 strokes (a borderline winning number at a lot of events) at the RSM Classic but failed to capitalize.

That wasn't the case this time around. Hughes took advantage of some terrific tee-to-green play (he finished first in the field this week in strokes gained from tee to green) and closed out a victory that had been so elusive. 

"I kept telling myself the whole week that I was going to do it," Hughes said. "That was the only thing I saw in my mind. Those par saves down the stretch, just trying to will the ball in the hole. I'd say that describes my game a bit is that grit and perseverance. The second one felt harder than the first one, that's for sure."

The par saves were pretty incredible. The one on the 72nd hole was difficult, but he had an up and down from a greenside bunker on the first hole of the playoff that was just as delectable.

Hughes almost never finishes outside the top 75 in the FedEx Cup, but just as infrequently finishes in the top 25. He's just a solid player who rarely tastes victory. There are a lot of those guys on the PGA Tour, but Hughes seems more bent on winning than most. It's not as taxing to simply exist as an average PGA Tour player, but Hughes should be applauded for doing what so few seem to want to do: putting himself in contention to win and hitting the shots (and putts) to actually pull it off.

The man he defeated, Straka, has now lost two playoffs in his last four PGA Tour starts. He was terrific all week -- he shot all four rounds in the 60s -- and could be poised for a breakout year. The oily-swinging Austrian looks exactly like somebody who is going to have a career year that culminates in a 3-0-1 record at next year's Ryder Cup in Rome right before Luke Donald pours his beloved Diet Coke from the Ryder Cup straight into the back of Straka's throat.

We're getting ahead of ourselves, though. This was event No. 2 of 47 for the PGA Tour season, and while it lacked the chaotic ending of the first one -- when Danny Willett kicked away a winning opportunity to Max Homa -- it still provided some good context for the rest of the season. Straka, as a breakout European, and Hughes as somebody who, as some would say given that football season is fully underway, might have that dog in him. Grade (for both): A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the 2022 Sanderson Farms Championship.

Mark Hubbard (T5): It was not a Sunday to remember for Hubbard, who was the 54-hole leader. He shot 2-over par in the final round -- the only player in the top 12 to shoot over par at all -- and couldn't cash in the healthy lead he built up over the first three days. Hubbard is an especially easy player to root for, and it's always fun to have him in contention. Unfortunately, he just didn't have his best stuff when having it would have resulted in his first-ever PGA Tour victory. Grade: A-

Davis Riley (T19): After the first day, I thought we might get a Sam Burns redux, with Riley kick-starting his season with an early win and some whispers about whether he could make next year's United States Ryder Cup team. Instead, he faded over the last three days with rounds of 71-70-71. Riley struggled immensely off the tee. not normally a weakness of his -- and the result was that he let a group of players who were looking up at him after 18 holes overtake him over the final 54. Grade: B

Sam Burns (T30): Burns was the highest-ranked player in the field this week, so his T30 has to be a disappointment -- especially coming off a strong Presidents Cup week and at a golf course where he won just a year ago. Burns was awesome off the tee, but he struggled elsewhere and couldn't find his iron game (he finished second in approach shots a year ago and 49th this week). This says nothing about his long-term ability or what I expect from him this season, but it's likely not the start to the season he envisioned. Grade: B-