Kuchar tamed tough Memorial, readies for Merion

By Rex HoggardJune 1, 2013, 10:31 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – It was suggested earlier this week that Matt Kuchar’s new unkempt look has the added benefit of making him look tougher. Hardened, even, like a player who could win a U.S. Open.

But it’s not Kuchar’s suddenly AWOL razor that makes him a not-so-surprising favorite in a fortnight at Merion, particularly with the normal cast of A-list contenders weathering unforeseen storms – both meteorological and competitive – this week at the Memorial.

Two days removed from Rory McIlroy’s opening 78 and not long after Tiger Woods had signed for an outward loop of 44, the highest nine-hole card of his professional career, Kuchar endured what many considered the season’s toughest conditions on his way to a third-round 70 and a two-stroke lead.

The dismissive rub against Kuchar is that he’s too nice to step on the field when it matters the most. Of course, that analysis ignores the fact that he overpowered the world’s deepest tee sheet on his way to a two-stroke victory at last year’s Players. Or that he never saw the 18th hole on his way to a WGC walk-off at February’s Match Play Championship.

Don’t let the smile or the “aw shucks” demeanor fool you; Kuchar doesn’t just want to win, he wants to play the field into submission.

It’s why a player poll in a national magazine once voted Kuchar the most likely to trash-talk. And why pingpong tables from Medinah to Royal Melbourne felt like cliffs to lemmings to Woods and Phil Mickelson during recent Ryder and Presidents cups.

Consider Kuchar’s mood two weeks ago when he tied for 33rd at the Byron Nelson Championship after a closing 69 in difficult conditions.

Memorial Tournament: Articles, videos and photos

Video: Kuchar takes Memorial lead

“He was so disappointed,” said Chris O’Connell, Kuchar’s longtime swing coach. “It shows you how competitive he is. Afterward, he and I talked about the beauty of the PGA Tour because every week you get to start over.”

Kuchar reloaded at last week’s Colonial, finishing second to Boo Weekley, and opened his week at Muirfield Village with steady rounds of 68-70 before powering through the Saturday turn in the week’s worst wind to pull clear of the field.

“I can’t think of many more (days) that were harder,” Kuchar said of Saturday’s gusts that reached 25 mph. “This course is a challenge without wind. Put some wind into it and it’s really challenging. If it was as firm as it was on Thursday and Friday it would be unplayable.”

Following a lull in his game after his WGC victory at Dove Mountain, Kuchar was energized by two weeks with O’Connell, staying at his coach’s house, hosting a junior clinic at his club Watters Creek in Plano, Texas, and fine-tuning his swing in the run-up to Merion.

“He tends to play well in this time period and he likes the repetition,” O’Connell said. “He felt like Colonial is a good course for him. It rewards someone who doesn’t make mistakes.”

The same could be said for Merion. Particularly for a player who is attacking courses the way Kuchar has of late. He feels like he’s hitting his driver so well right now – he hit the big stick eight times on Saturday – it’s difficult for his caddie to even suggest dialing it back on certain holes including the 18th on Saturday when he cut the corner of the dogleg and had a wedge in for his approach shot.

But, as it's been for the better part of the last half-decade, it was his putter that lifted him to the top of the leaderboard.

Following a bogey at the par-5 15th, Kuchar’s tee shot caught a gust of wind and sailed into a bunker right of the 16th green. Or, as Kuchar figured, “the garden spot.” He blasted to 10 feet and calmly rolled in the putt, avoiding back-to-back bogeys and keeping the field at bay.

“There are several holes like that that some sort of golfing smarts really come into play,” said Kuchar, who is second in the field in strokes gained-putting.

Kuchar plans to make a scouting trip to Merion on Tuesday, and the ball-control tactician has already been tabbed as a clear contender on the quirky and confined layout. If he closes on Sunday for his sixth career Tour title, expect those predictions to only grow louder.

As for the tough-guy look, well, it’s safe to say he won’t be making a guest appearance on “Duck Dynasty” anytime soon.

“I’m dying to shave it off. My wife says she likes it,” he smiled.

The way he’s performed the last few weeks, he’ll still look like a U.S. Open tough guy even without the scruff.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry