Kuchar again the talk of Atlanta

By Doug FergusonSeptember 22, 2010, 11:57 pm
2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA – Matt Kuchar is the face of golf in Atlanta this week at the Tour Championship, just like he was 10 years ago.

There’s one difference.

Actually, there’s about 10 million differences.

Kuchar is the No. 1 seed in the FedEx Cup going into the final playoff event, which starts Thursday at East Lake. That gives him a slight edge in the race for the $10 million bonus, the biggest payoff in golf.

It’s hard to believe that Kuchar, perhaps the most celebrated amateur golfer at Georgia Tech since Bobby Jones, wasn’t even sure he wanted to turn pro when he graduated a decade ago.

He had won the U.S. Amateur. He lit up Augusta National with his engaging smile and a game good enough to be the low amateur at the Masters in 1998. Then came the U.S. Open at Olympic Club, where he held his own against golf’s best and tied for 14th.

Not long after that, a businessman tossed out the idea of staying an amateur.

“He said, ‘Nobody has really done it since Bobby Jones. There’s plenty of money to be made in the business world. It’s not that you have to turn professional to make money,”’ Kuchar said. “And he encouraged me to still stay competitive as an amateur. He said, ‘The doors that will open for you will be amazing, and the better you do in golf – if you keep playing Masters tournaments, if you keep playing well in Amateurs – it’s only going to open more doors.

“So it was a neat opportunity.”

Kuchar went to work for Liberty Associates, a boutique investment banking firm in south Florida, a job that entailed plenty of golf with prospective clients, a chance to see how business gets done as efficiently on manicured fairways as in boardrooms.

Chasing the amateur dream, however, soon turned into a sprint.

Kuchar played the Texas Open on a sponsor’s exemption in the fall of 2000 and missed the cut by one shot. He was furious with himself and wanted to tee it up the next week to prove he was better than that.

“And it was then that I knew I needed to really go week in and week out to see how good I could be,” he said.

It took him time to find out. He won his first PGA Tour event two years later at the Honda Classic, immediately went into a tailspin and didn’t emerge until hooking up with Chris O’Connell, a Texas-based coach who taught him a one-plane swing that was more about making a consistent swing than a perfect one.

The plan has worked to near perfection.

No one has more than his 11 top 10s on the PGA Tour this year. His consistent play, coupled with a victory at The Barclays, has put him atop the PGA Tour money list for the first time in his career, his first Ryder Cup team and No. 10 in the world ranking.

It’s also his first appearance in the Tour Championship, a big goal for a Georgia Tech alum who used to play East Lake in college.

“It’s definitely been a neat progression,” Kuchar said. “I think I was definitely well-celebrated as an amateur, and it’s fun to take the steps forward. … To make those steps, it’s a very rewarding feeling.”

The timing of the Tour Championship provides one coincidence – Kuchar, who always has felt at home in Atlanta, is in the process of moving across the state to St. Simons Island.

The memories will stay, particularly his amateur days.

“It seems like coming back from the Masters (in 1998) there was a lot more fanfare,” Kuchar said. “I remember classrooms standing up and applauding. I can remember teachers coming up and congratulating me. The Masters was kind of what seemed like the real significant event to folks from Georgia, folks from Georgia Tech.”

The U.S. Amateur was a big deal in a different way.

There are pictures of Jones returning to Atlanta with the U.S. Amateur trophy, arriving by train, greeted by a host of Atlanta’s finest. A half-dozen people in those pictures were brought back together when Kuchar came home in 1997 with the same trophy, and they put together a mock photo to celebrate the occasion.

Kuchar was told later some in the group had tears in their eyes at the sight of the U.S. Amateur trophy belonging to a Georgia Tech kid.

“It was a very touching moment, and I kind of realized how big of a deal it was,” Kuchar said.

It’s a big deal, now – a chance to be the FedEx Cup champion with a $10 million bonus, perhaps enough for him to be voted PGA Tour player of the year, with the Vardon Trophy on the line for the lowest scoring average.

Kuchar isn’t alone in his pursuit of the big prize.

The top five in the standings – Kuchar, Dustin Johnson, Charley Hoffman, Steve Stricker and Paul Casey – determine their own fate. If they win the Tour Championship, they win the FedEx Cup. Everyone else from No. 6 to No. 30 needs help to win.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson is No. 10, having slipped in the standings with mediocre results in the playoffs. He still has a chance, and can get more than money. A victory would make him No. 1 in the world for the first time, and considering his Masters victory in April, make him the favorite for player of the year. For all he has done in his career, Mickelson has never won any top awards.

He has never had a better chance than now – on a course where he is defending champion, with Tiger Woods not around because the world’s No. 1 player didn’t qualify.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.