Kuchar Holds On At Memorial: Tiger Falters
Sports Fan Insider
DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Matt Kuchar crossed the Memorial Tournament off his wish list and then set his sights on a couple of other items — grabbing a major championship and winning again at Muirfield Village later this year.
Kuchar made a clutch 5-foot, par-saving putt on the 17th hole and then closed out a two-stroke win over Kevin Chappell by holing a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday. It gave Kuchar one of the biggest wins of his career and assurance that he can start checking off other items on his to-do list.
“There are a couple of things I thought were missing from my pedigree, my golf history,” he said after a 4-under 68 left him at 12-under 276. “A major championship is on the list, and a multiple-win season was on the list. That’s something that at the beginning of the year when I set goals. And making the Presidents Cup team was on the list.”
Coming up on his 35th birthday later this month, Kuchar, who won earlier this year in the Match Play, has a clear shot at hitting those goals.
He’ll be among the handful of top names bandied about at the U.S. Open the week after next at Merion.
“I’ll have a lot of confidence,” Kuchar said. “I’d love it if I could show up and play good enough golf to win a major. It’s something that is up there, No. 1 on the list. I want to do it and feel like I’m ready to do it. But I can only control so much of that equation.”
Later this year, he’s almost a lock to return to Muirfield Village as a part of the U.S. side in the Presidents Cup matches in October.
“To have kind of sealed the deal with winning this tournament feels really good, to make the team,” he said. “Team championships are so much fun. The crowds here are spectacular. I can’t wait to see what a Presidents Cup will be like.”
Kuchar is known as a steady, if unspectacular player, an optimist with few holes in his swing or his mental approach. Those strengths loomed large in a week during which gusting winds and three weather delays on Thursday seemed to completely frustrate others.
Tiger Woods, the defending champion and a five-time winner at the Memorial, opened with rounds of 71 and 74 but then watched things fall apart. He suffered through 8-over 44 — his worst nine-hole score as a pro — in the swirling gusts on Friday. His round of 79 — matching his second-worst score since turning pro — included two double-bogeys and a triple-bogey.
On Sunday, Woods was already 16 shots behind third-round leader Kuchar going into the round and then had a triple-bogey on his third hole.
He will head to the U.S. Open with several major questions as a result of his erratic iron play and errant putting.
Asked what he’ll work on back home in Orlando, Fla., before heading to Merion, Woods didn’t narrow it down much.
“Everything,” he said. “You want everything clicking on all cylinders, especially at the U.S. Open. Because everything is tested in the U.S. Open.”
Rory McIlroy, the 2012 PGA Championship winner and the 2011 U.S. Open champion, like Woods was never a factor in the Memorial. But he felt as if he ironed out some problems after shooting a 72 that left him two shots ahead of Woods at 294.
“I hit the ball much better today. I actually putted a little better, too. It feels pretty good,” he said. “I get to see Merion a couple of days next week, too, so that will be beneficial. It’s not that far away.”
Chappell, who birdied the final two holes to put some pressure on Kuchar, said he never really felt like he could overcome a player who’s so steady.
“I wasn’t part of the conversation all day,” he said. “I played a solid back nine to get close. I hit a good iron shot on 17 and then made the putt. I kind of figured Matt would make his putt. He’s world class with that putter and I figured it was over with.”
Kuchar conceded that his margin of victory was a little misleading. He felt as if Chappell was right on his heels — particularly as he stood over that testy 5-foot par putt on the next-to-last hole. A miss and his lead would be down to a stroke.
“The putt on 17, I’d say that one I knew I had to make,” Kuchar said. “That was the one point where I felt like if I don’t, I could lose this.”
After he dropped in that putt, he followed by hitting his drive into the fairway on the difficult, uphill closing hole. From there his second shot ended up 21 feet from the hole. With a mammoth gallery surrounding the green and watching from the newly reconstructed clubhouse, he then curled in the birdie putt to double his margin.
Kyle Stanley shot a 71 and was at 281, alone in third and three shots back of Chappell. Tied for fourth were Scott Stallings, who matched James Driscoll for the low round of the day with a 67, and second-round leader Bill Haas (71). Russell Henley (69) and Matt Jones (72) were at 283. First-round leader Charl Schwartzel shot a 72 and led a group another shot back.
After Kuchar, who climbed to a career-best No. 4 in the world rankings, hit his clinching putt on the final hole, he was met by a happy greeting party: wife Sybi, sons Cameron and Carson. They smiled, kissed and hugged to celebrate his sixth career PGA Tour victory.
Also there was Memorial Tournament founder and host Jack Nicklaus, shaking Kuchar’s hand after high-fiving Carson.
“We’re delighted that he is our champion,” Nicklaus said. “I know that this will probably not be his last win here or elsewhere.”
If that’s true, Kuchar’s wish list will be getting even shorter.
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