By the time Sunday was over Matt Kuchar had yet more cause to flash his pearly whites, as if he did not have enough motivation to do so before the Barclays Championship began.
The 32 year-old Floridian has been crushing it this year, with 10 top ten finishes to his credit but just one wrinkle at that impressive slate – the lack of a victory. He took care of that blemish at the Barclays with a closing round of 66 and a one hole playoff conquest over the man who let the tournament slip from his grasp on the final hole of regulation, Martin Laird.
Laird, the Glaswegian Scot, had nothing but two putts between himself and the 2nd PGA Tour win of his career, but let that slip through his fingers with a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole of the Ridgewood Country Club. “I knew 2-putt was going to win and these greens right now, as you can probably see, are very, very baked out. And the last thing I wanted to do was trickle it down there, leave it three, four feet short and have a 3-, 4-footer down there. Around those holes it’s a little sketchy being the last group in the field,” said the 27 year-old who blew his first putt past the hole and missed the return affair, creating the playoff with Kuchar.
“And as I said, I was just, I was trying to stay calm. I felt good. I had obviously holed a big putt on 17. And I had been holing good putts all day. And the first one I was — I felt like I had it all read and the piece and everything. And as I said, now after seeing Kuchar’s ball on the fringe (in the playoff) going down to the hole I understand how fast it was. The second one I saw it go left, right past the hole. I thought it was on the way to the hole, on the way back with a nice down speed and the putt just didn’t move.”
In the extra frame both players peppered the rough with their tee shots but Kuchar, firing his approach first, came out the better of the two as his unlikely strike worked its way to the hole in an unlikely fashion. Skimming low along the ground it backed off the right, back fringe to ultimately settle two feet from the cup where he would make the birdie to beat out Laird’s par. “I knew I had to keep it low under some limbs, and just kind of chase it up and run it on,” said Kuchar of the 192-yard shot that changed the course of his year. “I saw Martin play his 72nd hole and it looked like he a similar shot. Looked like he was in the left rough, looked like he chased one up to the back. I was basically trying to hit a similar shot. I was looking to have it just land 15 yards short of the green, start chasing up. And I went with a 7-iron, the lie was pretty good. I was kind of deep enough in the rough that it ended up being a pretty good lie. And the shot came out beautifully. I ran up to that back right bank and saw the crowd just all of a sudden, the momentum build and they went just like a wave of people standing up and cheering. I knew it was getting good. That was an exciting way to kind of cap off this tournament.
The winning blow from the rough was an impressive ending to a tournament that saw plenty of ebb and flow from a mix of players. Names like Woods, Day, and Laird had flitted across the scoreboards all week but in the end it was a five birdie, no bogey round by Kuchar and a timely birdie on the extra hole that pushed the man with the golden grin to the #1 FedEx Cup Ranking
With so many high finishes in 2010 Kuchar was content with his season but the climb to the top of the board at Barclays brought it to another level. “I would have shut down the year had I not won and been very pleased with my year,” he said when asked about how a win would shape his outlook on the season. “To win, it’s an incredible year. There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a PGA TOUR golf tournament. You feel like you are the best player in the world for this week. I mean, it’s just an amazing feeling to think there’s 125 of the best players in the world started this week and I came out first. And it’s an amazing feeling and one I’m awfully proud of,” he said, of course, with a smile.
With the victory Kuchar guarantees himself a spot at East for the Tour Championship, one he calls a “home game”. With his streak of play this year, the momentum of victory, and his level of comfort and familiarity with East Lake you can expect his name to be in the PGA Tour Playoff mix for the next three weeks.