Playing for sister, and with Grayson Murray on his mind, Davis Riley ends somber week with an unexpected win

It’s easy to think of Scottie Scheffler as inevitable. When he fired a third-round 63 Saturday at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, and climbed into second place just four shots behind Davis Riley, the impulse was to expect the tournament to culminate in another victory for the World No. 1 playing close to his Dallas home.

Riley, ranked 250th in the world, decided to make his highly decorated playing partner earn it. And Scheffler couldn’t summon the goods. And he would have had to be really good to catch his fellow Texas resident.

Displaying the kind of punctilious ball striking that had helped him take control through 54 holes, Riley never gave Scheffler many openings and went on to an impressive five-stroke victory Sunday at breezy and broiling Colonial Country Club. An even-par 70 was more than good enough for Riley to capture his second PGA Tour title and his first individual crown after breaking through last year with Nick Hardy in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans team event.

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More than once after posting a career-low 14-under 266, Riley summed up the challenge—that is the name on the marquee—of the final round, saying, “when you’ve got the World No. 1 golfer breathing down your neck you know it’s going to be difficult.”

And yet Riley, 27, who came into the week with just one top-25 finish while missing cuts in half of his 14 starts this year, made it look kind of easy in collecting $1.638 million.

Scheffler, who shot 71 and tied for second with Keegan Bradley at 271, contributed to that by simply being a little bit off on a revamped Colonial layout that got firmer and faster as sun and wind worked it over.

“I just wasn’t able to put as much pressure as I would have hoped to put on Davis early in the round and he just kind of cruised all day,” said Scheffler, who has 11 top-10 finishes in 12 events this year, proving there is no neck he won’t breathe down. “He [Riley] played great golf. He made that bogey on 2 and answered it really quick with a birdie on 4 and didn’t really give us much of an opening today; just continued to cruise and play great golf. So it was a well-earned win for him.”

The proceedings—subdued by the tragic news of tour player Grayson Murray’s passing at age 30 on Saturday—turned strongly in Riley’s favor at the par-3 fourth hole, where Scheffler made bogey after a poor tee shot while Riley rolled in a 27-footer for birdie. A poor drive at the fifth led to another bogey, and Scheffler was providing exactly the kind of extra breathing room Riley undoubtedly relished, though he admitted, “not really any shot lead is too comfortable.”

Thanks to an eight-foot birdie at the ninth, Riley turned in even par to go six shots ahead. That seemed comfortable. When Scheffler chopped up the 10th for another bogey and then found jail off the tee at the par-5 11th that resulted in an unsatisfying par, he lost two more shots to Riley and his hopes for a fifth win this season were extinguished.

Riley’s lead at one point slipped to four over Bradley, who closed with a 67 and had nosed ahead of Scheffler. But the Mississippi native put an exclamation point on his victory with dart to three feet at the 17th after his tee shot found a divot in the fairway. Bradley’s runner-up finish was his second of the year. The first came at the Sony Open in Hawaii when he lost in a playoff to Murray.

“I thought about him all day today,” Bradley admitted.

Davis Riley celebrates with his new Corvette Stingray after winning the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club.

Sam Hodde

Now a resident in nearby Addison, Texas, Riley’s turnaround is due, in part, to reuniting with swing coach Jeff Smith. A few tweaks had him swinging the club with a more reliability. It was exactly what he needed.

“I was looking to get the season going a little bit, to get a win to catapult me and hopefully this sets me up for the rest of the year,” said Riley, who jumped to 78th in the world.

The final few days of the Charles Schwab Challenge were notably somber as players processed the news that Murray had died. Things took an even sadder turn when Murray’s parents released a statement Sunday saying that their son had taken his own life.

Meanwhile, Riley already was dealing with his own emotional struggle. The week before, his sister Caroline suffered a seizure at work, and a subsequent CAT scan revealed a tumor on her brain. She underwent surgery immediately. Fortunately, the operation was successful, and a biopsy showed that the tumor was benign. Until he received that news, Riley was thinking of withdrawing.

“Honestly, I was a little beside myself for most of the week last week, but my parents told me that my sister wanted me to go out there and play and compete and do what I love and that meant the world to me,” he said.

Even amid the euphoria of his first solo victory, Riley confronted the sobering news that had cast a pall over Colonial. Just as his sister had told him to go out and compete this past week, so had Grayson Murray’s parents asked that the tour event in Fort Worth continue. Riley wouldn’t have won if he hadn’t played or if the event had been canceled.

“Obviously, a super sad day in the golf world,” Riley said. “My heart just goes out to him and his family. There was definitely a little extra to play for today.”

And, really, if he and his peers learn a lesson, there’s a little extra every day thereafter.

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