The other side of The Open coin: Kuchar's perspective

By Rex HoggardJuly 26, 2017, 6:17 pm

Perspective can be relative. Consider Jordan Spieth’s 13th hole on Sunday at The Open. You know the one that took more than 20 minutes for the Golden Child to play a shot and will be a highlight reel special for the next 20 years.

For Spieth, the foul-ball tee shot and frantic moments that led to an unlikely bogey was nothing less than a sea change in the round, a shift so dramatic it would carry him all the way to the claret jug.

For the fans who watched the surreal episode it was historic, like “The Shot” by Michael Jordan during Game 5 of the 1989 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers, or “The Catch” when San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the end zone during the ’81 NFC Championship Game. It was the kind of moment you tell your grandchildren about.

But there’s another narrative, another player whose part in Sunday’s duel will be largely overlooked but is no less important.

When Spieth rolled in that 8-footer for bogey at the 13th hole it moved Matt Kuchar into sole possession of the lead, one-stroke clear of the eventual champion.

“I didn't lose any momentum,” Kuchar said following a final-round 69 at Royal Birkdale. “All of a sudden I now have a one-shot lead after that hole in the British Open with five to go. I'm playing really well. Hitting a lot of good shots. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing. And he just ... he really turned it up.”

Spieth would play the next four holes in 5 under to pull away from Kuchar, a run that included a 48-footer for eagle at No. 15 and a 25-footer for birdie at the next.

Late Sunday as he tried to process those frantic final moments, Kuchar struggled for answers. During that same run that propelled Spieth to victory, Kuchar was 2 under par and yet he lost ground.

“It's crushing. It hurts,” Kuchar admitted. “You work so hard to get to this position. And to have a chance to make history and win a championship, you don't get that many opportunities. And to be this close, to taste it with five holes to go, it's a hard one to sit back and take.”

At 39, this was Kuchar’s 47th major and while he’d been close before, most recently at this year’s Masters when he tied for fourth place, this Birkdale Open was the first time he’d been in position to control his own destiny late on a Sunday.

He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the ’12 Players Championship, but this was different, this was a chance to make the monumental leap from good to great.

A consummate teammate on both the U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, Kuchar’s ever-present smile and “aw-shucks” demeanor belies a dogged competitor with a quick, and sometimes biting, sense of humor.

“That smile is not, 'hey, how’re you doing?' Let's put it that way,” said Zach Johnson, a longtime friend and St. Simons Island, Ga., neighbor of Kuchar’s.

There’s a saying in sports that wealth and desire are very much mutually exclusive, and the golf landscape is littered with players who lost their edge after becoming financially comfortable. Kuchar is not that player.

In golf terms, Kuchar is a competitive ATM, having finished in the top 10 on 90 occasions in his career and he’s earned more than $40 million to rank 13th on the all-time cash list. That total puts him ahead of the likes of Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy.

But on Sunday as he made his way to the scoring hut, his head spinning and his title chances finally dashed with a closing bogey, it wasn’t Kuchar’s desire that was broken, just his heart.

Kuchar’s wife, Sybi, and children, Cameron and Carson, were supposed to be in Colorado, but they’d flown to Southport, England, for the final round and were waiting for him. Kuchar called it a “teary surprise.”

Spieth, who had just claimed the third leg of the career Grand Slam with his epic finish, noticed.

“I think Cameron is his oldest, he was in tears,” Spieth said. “At that moment I'm so happy. And at the same time I see that and I thought to myself, man, put this in perspective, he's a dad. I'm not a dad, I don't think that way. And I was able to kind of get a little glimpse into what that's like.

“Matt didn't lose the tournament at all today. He played well down the stretch. I believe Matt Kuchar will win a major championship. And I believe that he'll do it sometime soon.”

The 2017 Open will be remembered for many things, but for Kuchar it was a deep-dive study of how perspective can be relative.

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”