Kuchar wins The Players Championship

By Doug FergusonMay 13, 2012, 11:11 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Matt Kuchar looked beyond the edge of the 16th green at a scene packed with enough stress it could wipe away even his smile.

Across the water was an island green that was awaiting him Sunday in The Players Championship. The guy dressed in all orange and pumping his first was Rickie Fowler after making a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th to cut Kuchar's lead to two shots.

Kuchar stepped over his 15-footer and answered with a birdie just as big.

''Yeah, absolutely I saw the putt,'' Kuchar said. ''Watched the thing disappear and he gave a big fist pump. I knew it got him to within two shots and he could birdie 18 to bring it within one. That could have changed the whole scenario of how I would have approached and played 18. So I was really excited to drop that birdie on 16. That was big.''

Everything was big for Kuchar on the TPC Sawgrass – most of all, that smile.

After a three-putt bogey he could afford on the 17th, and a tap-in par on the final hole with his family watching, Kuchar closed with a 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory, his fourth career win and by far the biggest in so many ways.

It was his first win in 38 starts on the PGA Tour, dating to The Barclays in 2010. He won $1.71 million, the richest prize in golf, and moved to No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings and a career-high No. 5 in the world ranking. His parents moved to Ponte Vedra Beach, so he stayed with them all week and delivered the perfect gift on Mother's Day to the woman who taught him to have fun while playing golf.

Even at scary Sawgrass, that was never a problem.

Not so for Kevin Na.

Already struggling with a pre-shot routine of practice swings, waggles and a few intentional whiffs so he could start over, Na heard it from the fans who heckled him with chants of ''Pull the trigger!'' and ''Hit it!'' He lost the lead for good with four bogeys in a five-hole stretch to finish the front nine, and when he hit his tee shot in the water on the par-3 13th, fans serenaded him with, ''Na-na-na-na ... good-bye.''

He closed with a 76, keeping a peculiar record intact – since The Players moved from March to May in 2007, the 54-hole leader has not shot better than 74 in the final round, with an average score of 76.3.

''I backed off and they're booing me,'' Na said. ''I said, 'Look, guys, I backed off because of you guys.' ... But it is what it is. I also felt that a lot of people were turning towards me and pulling for me, which I really appreciate.''

Fowler missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the last hole – the difference of $399,000 – and shot 70 to settle for a four-way tie for second. He was joined by Ben Curtis, who holed a 10-foot birdie on the last hole for a 68; Zach Johnson, who shot 68; and Martin Laird, who made bogey on the 18th for a 67.

Laird made the strongest run on a cloudy, breezy afternoon, tying for the lead with his third straight birdie on No. 12. Laird lost his momentum with a poor tee shot on the 14th that led to bogey, and with a bogey on the final hole, he needed big mistakes from Kuchar that never came.

Luke Donald finished alone in sixth after a 66, not quite enough to replace Rory McIlroy at No. 1 in the world.

Tiger Woods shot 40 on his front nine and rallied for a 73, at least finishing The Players Championship under par. That was the smallest of consolations. Far more alarming was that he tied for 40th, the first time in his career that he has finished no better than 40th in three straight tournaments. The streak began after a five-shot win at Bay Hill for his first PGA Tour title in 30 months.

''Just keep working. Keep working,'' Woods said when asked what he could take out of the week.

Kuchar opened with a tee shot into the woods and a bogey, though that was his only significant mistake until he could afford one with the three-putt at the 17th. The key shots turned out to be pars in the middle of the back nine.

With a one-shot lead and on the upper shelf of the green on the 13th, he two-putted from 60 feet to stay in the lead. His next tee shot went into the bunker, just over the water, on the 14th. He blasted that out from 181 yards, just over the bunker and safely onto the green to secure another par.

''Just doesn't seem like anything is going to upset him too much,'' Laird said. ''That's obviously a good attitude to have when you're out here on Sunday on this golf course.''

That smile has been around for a long time.

It first showed up in 1998 when Kuchar won over the crowds with his easy smile and demeanor while contending as an amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open. Through wins and having to go back to the Nationwide Tour, it never seems to leave him.

''It's completely a natural reaction,'' Kuchar said. ''I love playing the game of golf. I have fun doing it. I'm a golf junkie. I have to force myself to take vacations where I cannot play golf, because the game is just always so challenging. And I think it's that challenge that's addictive to me. ... The smile is there because I'm having a good time.

''Now, granted, if I'm shooting 10-over par, you're probably not going to see my real happy. I'm hopefully going to behave myself appropriately, thanks to my mother, but I'm not going to be near as happy as when I'm making birdies.''

Suffice to say Kuchar, who finished on 13-under 275, was thrilled Sunday.

''It's such an amazing feeling - playing amongst the game's best, to come out on top, to do it on Mother's Day ... it really is magical,'' he said.

Curtis, who started the season without a full PGA Tour card, now has three top 5s in the last month, including a win at the Texas Open. He was slowed by a double bogey on the par-3 eighth, and simply couldn't catch up.

Even though Laird is the only player who actually tied for the lead at one point, Fowler generated the biggest buzz in his all-orange attire and free swinging ways. Coming off his first PGA Tour win last week at Quail Hollow, he got in the mix with two birdies in the opening four holes, only to take a double bogey on No. 5 and a bogey on the seventh. Even so, he ran off four birdies after that and never went away until missing the short birdie at the end.

''The last few holes were a lot of fun,'' Fowler said. ''It's a rush out there. Get yourself in contention Sunday at The Players, it's a lot of fun.''

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.


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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x