Kuchar Proves Sum Is Greater Than the Parts

By George WhiteMarch 11, 2002, 5:00 pm
So the critics were all over Matt Kuchar when he didnt leave Georgia Tech at the end of his sophomore season after impressive finishes in the Masters and U.S. Open. The critics, we are to believe, were busy pouring Tabasco sauce on their words after Kuchar won the Honda Classic Sunday.
 
First of all, who are these supposed critics, anyway? I didnt see their stories in the papers back then, and I dont see anyone fessing up to them now. A lot of people undoubtedly gave their opinions, though none of them worked for this nations daily journals. The stories I recall reading simply mentioned offers of two million dollars (true), and Kuchars decision to stay put (true again).
 
He was right not to take the money, of course. He really didnt need two million ' his father was very comfortably fixed money-wise, and by staying at Georgia Tech, Kuchar ensured himself of a well-paying job throughout his working career. It would have been the wrong career move for me ' I would gladly have taken the $2 mil ' but then again, I wasnt privileged enough to get a degree from Georgia Tech. So Kuchar refused to gamble with his life by taking the two million and faced the fact that he might have been a bust. The streets are full of insurance salesmen who had one brilliant summer of golf, five summers of making bogeys, and finally a career in the business or teaching side of the game.
 
Kuchar, though, did it the other way around ' he went to a brain school and got a business degree. Armed with the diploma, he tinkered around for a year or so with a real job. When it became apparent that he would be successful in the office, he then took a flyer on golf as a career. Sundays verdict would indicate that he has made a very wise choice. Had he gone to JacqueStroppe U., the verdict might not have been nearly so clear-cut.
 
At any rate, Kuchar is building his golf career precisely the right way. He is 23 years old, the ideal time to start. He has been all over the charts with his results, but it looks like he has finally learned how to win.
 
Methinks the lad has learned the real objective to playing golf ' low scoring. Heaven knows the rest of the game is mediocre. Add up the different parts of his game and there is no particular area where he stands out. The sum isnt there ' unless you talk about just getting the ball in the hole. And in that particular category, young Kuchar has shown a remarkable proclivity for doing the same very quickly.
 
Consider his results the past two seasons: In 2001, he missed the cut in five of 11 tournaments entered. He finished 68th in another, the National Car Rental in his old hometown of Orlando.
 
But he finished tied for second at the Texas Open ' whoa! And he finished tied for third in the Air Canada Championship. Those two finishes were enough to merit a careful look-see this year.
 
This year, he opened the season with a tie for fourth at the Sony Open in Hawaii. The next month he was just another palooka, playing four tournaments, missing the cut in one, no higher that T39 in the others.
 
And then ' wham! ' he wins the Honda against a pretty talented field. Was he just waiting to get back to Florida? Was he waiting for another shot at Bermuda greens? Did he get tired playing four weeks in a row?
 
Maybe thats it. Check his scores the opening day for each of those four tournaments ' he averaged 69. From there, though, his scores went up each day. His average on Fridays was 71, still quite respectable. But the third day, his average balloons to 75.3. And on Sundays, he was averaging nearly 72. Thats not good when youre trying to beat the rest of the field out of the goodies.
 
When they get that many in a row ' because I was playing Monday, Tuesday, and half the Wednesday pro-ams, said Kuchar. And for five tournaments (counting the first one in Hawaii), I did that.
 
I really, at the end, got worn out. At the beginning of the week, I was feeling good. But every time towards the end ' Saturdays and Sundays ' I seemed to play very poorly at the end of my West Coast stretch.
 
Hey ' he didnt work Saturdays and Sundays at his bank gig last year. Seven-day work-weeks tend to wear you down, especially along about the third or fourth week.
 
He doesnt rank near the top in driving distance ' 131st on the charts. He is better than average in driving accuracy, 18th, and a little better than average in greens hit in regulation ' 55th.
 
His putting ' though he had just 10 putts on the back nine Sunday ' needs lots of work. Hes 101st on the tour charts. But magically, his scoring is the best part ' he stands 27th. And all that other stuff can go out the window. You know the tired old saying ' dont paint me pictures, just tell me how many you had on the hole.
 
Is this just a mirage, a Jump-Up Johnny performance and then back with the herd? Could be. But one thing is for certain ' Kuchar is just winging it now, glad to be here, but certainly not going to starve if he doesnt make it. Just about everyone in golf envies his situation.
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.