LA QUINTA, Calif. – For once, Matt Kuchar wasn’t smiling. His hat was tipped back, his face was red from the sun and wind, and he passed a ball in his hands.
As he meandered to the scoring trailer Saturday at the Humana Challenge, he grumbled to himself:
“What was THAT?”
Potentially, another missed opportunity.
This was Kuchar’s second consecutive week with a 36-hole lead, and the fifth of his career outright. He didn’t win in his previous four attempts, and he’s no longer a lock to get the job done here Sunday after bogeying three of his last four holes.
Indeed, one of the steadiest players in golf got sidetracked in a hurry at PGA West. Leading by two and seemingly on cruise control, Kuchar bogeyed a pair of 150-yard par 3s and dropped another shot on the reachable par-5 finishing hole.
After carding only two bogeys during the first 50 holes, Kuchar made three on the closing stretch alone. Add it all up, and a third-round 71 sent him from the outright lead to one shot back, trailing four players and tied with three others.
“Not at all what I was looking for,” he said, shaking his head.
At least it was only Saturday.
The 15th hole doesn’t set up particularly well for his fade. He has to start the ball out over the All-American Canal to the left of the green, and the kidney-shaped green is so awkward anyway that he was just hoping to catch the front edge. Instead, his ball came to rest just right of the green, and he couldn’t get up-and-down from a devilish spot.
He appeared poised to rebound on the next hole, but missed a 9-footer.
On the 142-yard 17th – “a scary shot” – he pushed his tee shot with a pitching wedge, his ball ricocheting off the rocks and into the creek. Bogey.
And on the final hole, he faced a 235-yard approach – in between a 3- and 4-hybrid. He chose the longer club, hoping to get it all the way to the back-right hole location, but his ball never cut and it bounded over the green, into the drink.
“That son of a gun,” he said.
When Kuchar couldn’t sink a 5-footer for par, his lead had suddenly vanished.
“No really bad shots,” he said, “just made a couple lesser-quality shots.”
Whatever the case, Kuchar won’t have time to dwell on what could have been. Unless he can leapfrog the four players in front of him on the final day, he’s in danger of dropping to 2-for-26 when inside the top three after 36 holes.
“It’s too bad,” he said, “but it’s what happened. I know I still have one more day left to try to make some birdies and still pull this thing out.”