HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Matt Kuchar knew his next victory was coming, he just wasn’t sure when.
He figured it might be at the Texas Open three weeks back when he finished two shots behind winner Steven Bowditch. Kuchar expected it would be the Houston Open a week later when he led down the stretch before being stung on Matt Jones’ 42-yard chip-in on the first playoff hole.
Kuchar was absolutely certain it would happen at the Masters, the tournament where golf fans first met the upbeat, smiling Georgia Tech golfer 16 years earlier.
Instead, Kuchar watched others celebrate triumphs each time.
At the RBC Heritage, it was finally Kuchar’s time to celebrate after a stunning hole-out on No. 18 lifted him to a one-shot victory over Luke Donald. Kuchar finished at 11-under 273 for his seventh career PGA Tour victory and $1.044 million in prize money.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=swXCY6lpIuo#t=22]
“I believe that I keep plugging away, good things are going to go my way,” he said with a grin.
No one plugged away more the past month than Kuchar, the world’s sixth-ranked player. He could’ve taken the week off like most of golf’s best — just six of the top 20 players competed here — but instead hoped that his efforts the past month would finally pay off.
“I take a lot of pride in playing good week in and week out,” Kuchar said. “This has been some excellent play.”
Especially at Harbour Town this week. He had just two top-10 finishes and hadn’t come closer than seventh in 10 previous showings. This time, Kuchar had only one bad stretch — his 5-over-par front nine in the rain-delayed second round — and was ready to pounce when he had the chance.
Kuchar felt the break Friday into Saturday morning steadied his mind and his game, resetting him to return to the stellar form he’d shown for several weeks.
His 7-under 64 Sunday tied for the lowest round of the tournament and ended a string of five straight final rounds this season where he shot even par or worse.
“It was just an incredible feeling,” he said.
For Donald, it was his third second-place finish and fifth top-three finish in his past six RBC Heritage events.
Donald’s latest chance ended with Kuchar’s winning shot. He hit it solid, felt it was a good line and watched it rattle home. “I heard the crowd go crazy,” Kuchar said. “Then I went crazy.”
Kuchar made up the four shots on Donald with seven birdies in his first 10 holes. Then nearly gave away another tournament when he three-putted from less than 8 feet at the par-3 17th, a bogey that dropped him into a tie for the top spot — and set up the dramatic 72nd hole.
“I was in a little bit of shock,” Kuchar said. “But I think I did a good job of shaking things off.”
Donald had two holes to play after Kuchar finished, but he missed a 28-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole, then saw his try at a chip-in birdie slide past the cup at the last.
“Finishing second isn’t what I was hoping for,” he said. “Disappointed, obviously, not to have won. Usually a solid 69 on a windy day with a two-shot lead is enough to get it done on Sundays. It’s tough to win out here and hats off to Matt for a superb round.”
Donald was at 10-under 274 after his 69.
Ben Martin, who turned pro in 2010, shot 67 to finish tied for third at 9 under with John Huh, who shot 68.
Sunday finally brought the sunshine the tournament had lacked all week. Players got the bonus of easy, softened greens from three days of moisture.
The birdies were flying from the start, and Kuchar took full advantage. He birdied the first and second holes, then added a third from about 20 feet at No. 4.
“When I made that putt, I knew it was going to be a really good day,” he said.
That Donald was in the chase again here was no surprise. The steady Englishman, once No. 1 in the world, says Harbour Town’s tight fairways and small greens are a perfect layout for players like him who aren’t long hitters.
Donald said a gust of wind during his swing led to him driving the ball way left out of bounds on the sixth hole for a double bogey. He climbed back into the hunt with birdies on the seventh and ninth, but hooked his drive into the water left on No. 10 for a bogey.
“It was just a poor swing,” he said. “I flipped it.”
Donald, however, kept charging and drew within a stroke of Kuchar with birdies on Nos. 11-12. He could get no closer, finishing his round with six pars.
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