Jaeger forever a PGA Tour winner after ‘slaying the dragon’

AP photo by Michael Wyke / Former Baylor School and UTC golfer Stephan Jaeger studies his putt on the 18th green Sunday afternoon on his way to winning the Houston Open for his first career PGA Tour triumph.
AP photo by Michael Wyke / Former Baylor School and UTC golfer Stephan Jaeger studies his putt on the 18th green Sunday afternoon on his way to winning the Houston Open for his first career PGA Tour triumph.

Stephan Jaeger will never forget his first triumph on the PGA Tour.

A lot of folks won't, for that matter.

The former Baylor School and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga golfer earned his breakthrough victory this past weekend at the Texas Children's Houston Open, prevailing by one stroke after world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler missed a 5-foot putt on the 18th hole that would have forced a playoff. Scheffler was the main draw at the Houston Open, as he was seeking to win a third consecutive start, which hasn't happened on tour since Dustin Johnson turned the trick in 2017.

"It feels amazing, and I couldn't have dreamed up a better week to do it," Jaeger said afterwards in a news conference. "Obviously I was playing with Scottie the last couple of days, and he's been on a tear. To kind of slay the dragon this week was amazing.

"He's such a good dude and such a good player."

Scheffler is an eight-time winner on tour since his breakthrough at the 2022 Waste Management Phoenix Open. His biggest victory came at the 2022 Masters, and he has an eye-popping 22 top-three finishes since his inaugural win in Phoenix, more than doubling everybody else during this stretch.

So overwhelming a favorite was Scheffler — his 5/2 to 3/1 odds of winning last weekend were the lowest since Tiger Woods was on his stellar surge during the 2007-08 seasons — that Jaeger figured having to compete in a playoff was a given.

"Yeah, 100% I expected him to make it," Jaeger said, "and I'm not mad at him for missing it."

Scheffler arrived in Houston with wins in last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship, which resulted in combined earnings of $8.5 million in that two-week stretch and a gargantuan lead in the FedEx Cup standings.

"Stephan played great this week," the widely respected Scheffler said after Sunday's surprise finish. "He's a deserving champion."

Jaeger was a six-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour, and his victory Sunday catapulted him to a career-high mark of 43rd in the Official World Golf Rankings. The 34-year-old native of Germany led the PGA Tour last season with 26 made cuts, and he had been knocking on the door in recent months, tying for third at the Farmers Insurance Open and at the Mexico Open.

His payday of nearly $1.64 million Sunday was a career-best, and he vaulted to 10th in the FedEx Cup standings, which tops his fellow Baylor School alums, with Harris English 20th, Luke List 33rd and Keith Mitchell 62nd. List had been the most recent Baylor grad to win, capturing his second career tour triumph at last October's Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Mississippi.

"This validates the work I've been doing on and off the golf course," Jaeger said.

All four Baylor alums have tour victories, and all four broke through either dramatically or at the expense of golfing royalty or both.

English won his first of four tournaments at the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic, when he began Sunday one shot back of Shawn Stefani and had four bogeys on the front nine. Fortunately for English, Stefani was imploding on his way to a 76, which opened the door for him to right the ship and collect a two-stroke victory over tournament favorite Phil Mickelson and Scott Stallings.

Mitchell's lone career triumph at the 2019 Honda Classic defined dramatic, as he sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to defeat Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler by a single shot.

"Nobody can ever take this win away now," Mitchell said. "I've won on the PGA Tour, and I will always have won on the PGA Tour."

List tasted victory for the first time at the 2022 Farmers Insurance Open, when he began the final round five strokes back of the lead shared by Jason Day and Will Zalatoris. List played eight groups ahead of the leaders and shot a 6-under 66 before waiting two hours to learn his fate.

That fate would be a playoff with Zalatoris, who missed a chance to win in regulation. List birdied the first playoff hole, helping avenge a playoff loss to Justin Thomas at the 2018 Honda Classic.

"I just tried to stay positive and told myself this was my time in a playoff," List said.

This is now Jaeger's time, with Sunday's win clinching an invitation to the upcoming Masters along with English and List. This is the first Masters to have three of the four Baylor alums.

As soon as Scheffler missed his putt, Jaeger was joined on the 18th green by wife Shelby and 16-month-old son Harrison. Jaeger said in the news conference that he and Shelby started dating late in 2015, right after his season on the Latin America tour in which he earned roughly $12,000.

"My wife has been by my side for a long time," Jaeger said. "She's seen the worst, and she's seen me win on the Korn Ferry Tour. She's been my biggest supporter and my biggest critic, too. She'll set me straight if something is going on.

"I'm super happy that they were here, and hopefully I can do this again when my son remembers it. That's one of my goals."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com

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