2024 Mexico Open leaderboard, grades: Jake Knapp fends off Sami Valimaki for first career PGA Tour title



Sunday at the 2024 Mexico Open was another reminder that nothing is given on the PGA Tour. In just his ninth PGA Tour start, 29-year-old rookie Jake Knapp reigned supreme at 19 under for a two-stroke victory over fellow rookie Sami Valimaki at Vidanta Vallarta. With his win, Knapp secured playing privileges on the PGA Tour for the next two years, access to signature events for the remainder of 2024, invitations into the Players Championship and the Masters and 500 FedEx Cup points. To put it more briefly, Knapp’s performance this week in Mexico has changed his life.

The final round at Vidanta Vallarta had all the makings of a coronation. Knapp entered the day with a commanding four-stroke lead with only four players within seven of his 54-hole pace. He could do no wrong across the first three rounds after ranking first in strokes gained tee to green, third in strokes gained off the tee and first in strokes gained approach. After an 11-birdie performance Saturday, Knapp faced the task of following up a great round with another.

The great round would not materialize, however, as Knapp fought his swing from the onset. A case of the lefts plagued the smooth-swinging right hander, and for the first time all week he appeared uncomfortable. 

“I didn’t necessarily have my best stuff today that’s for sure,” said Knapp. “I knew it was going to be nerve-racking. I knew it was going to be tough. I told Mike [his caddie] after those first three holes that was as bad as we could have played and we still got a two-shot lead so just tried to settle in. It would have been nice to hit driver better and hit it a little bit better but was super pumped on how I played the finishing stretch and just grinded it out.”

Bogeys on two of the first three holes combined with a well-time birdie from Valimaki on the par-4 4th cut Knapp’s edge to one. Three holes later and the lead was erased completely when the young Finn made eagle on the drivable par-4 7th and Knapp did well to keep pace with a birdie of his own. Pars were exchanged to round out the outward half before a turbulent second nine crowned a champion.

Valimaki was the first to blink after the 25-year-old found water off the tee on the difficult 10th. A good bogey kept him within one stroke of Knapp, and he’d pull even once again a couple holes later when he successfully got up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 12th and Knapp did not.

That would be the last of Valimaki sharing the top spot on the leaderboard as short-game woes proved to be his undoing. A bogey on the 13th from the greenside bunker was followed by a poor chip on the par-5 14th. While Valimaki let a scoring chance pass him by, Knapp did not this time by playing a low spinner from in front of the green for his second birdie of the day to push his lead out to two.

That was all the breathing room Knapp needed. Three straight pars put the tournament on ice and allowed for a (relatively) stress-free stroll up the 18th. Fighting competitors and his swing all day, Knapp became the first player since tracking began in 1983 to hit just two fairways in his final round to win on the PGA Tour.

It may not have been pretty and it was certainly not as easy as he may have envisioned, but a win is a win and Jake Knapp can forever call himself a winner on the PGA Tour. Grade: A+

Here are the grades for the rest of the leaderboard at the 2024 Mexico Open

2. Sami Valimaki (-17): Valimaki experienced a dream start as converted scoring chances were met with struggles from Knapp. He erased a four-stroke deficit in seven holes and looked to be on his way to a maiden title. The water ball on No. 10 wasn’t great, but it will be the short-game shots on 13 and 14 that Valimaki will wish he had back. Relatively straight forward, Valimaki was unable to get up-and-down in both instances and was ultimately the difference between a victory and a runner-up performance. Grade: A

T3. Stephan Jaeger (-14): Jaeger has found a nice comfort level around Vidanta Vallarta and put together yet another quality outing on the par 71. Collecting his third straight top 20 in this tournament, the German improved on prior finishes thanks to a final-round 65 to push his name up the leaderboard. It marks Jaeger’s second top-three finish of the young season as he aims to match his consistency with upside winning potential. Grade: A-

T13. Tony Finau (-11): The defending champion and clear class of the field was a few swings away from contending in this tournament. Some sloppiness off the tee combined with some middling putting were ultimately Finau’s downfall. The good news for the 34-year-old is his iron play continued to be sharp and his putting, while middling, was actually improved as he made a slight change to his setup on the greens. Grade: B

T18. Keith Mitchell (-10): The big-hitting right hander got off to a slow start but battled back nicely to cash a top-20 finish. The ball-striking was exquisite from Mitchell as he ranked fifth in strokes gained tee to green, ninth in strokes gained off the tee and second in strokes gained approach. This didn’t come out of nowhere. Mitchell has hit the ball beautifully on the West Coast and major momentum rolling into the Florida Swing and the Cognizant Classic, where he claimed his lone PGA Tour title in 2019. Grade: B

T52. Nicolai Højgaard (-4): Expectations were high for the young Dane, but he was never able to really find his groove. Højgaard drove the ball well, but the positives stop there. Since finishing runner-up to Matthieu Pavon at the Famers Insurance Open, the 22-year-old has struggled a smidge with his game. This should be expected for a PGA Tour rookie, even one like Højgaard who has already compiled an impressive résumé with DP World Tour wins and a victorious Ryder Cup appearance. Grade: D





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