EDISON, N.J. – Matt Kuchar has never enjoyed the spoils of returning to the scene of a triumph one year later as defending champion. He’s never relived certain shots he hit during crunch time, never recharged the ol’ memory bank by making another victory lap.
His first career PGA Tour title was the 2002 Honda Classic at TPC-Heron Bay – which just happened to be the final time it played host, giving way to Country Club at Mirasol one year later.
Kuchar’s next win came seven years later at the Turning Stone Resort Championship. He didn’t return for the next edition of the event, though – not by his own volition, but because the event was opposite the more prestigious WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the same week.
And lastly, his third and most recent victory took place at last year’s Barclays, as he edged Martin Laird in a playoff at Ridgewood Country Club, only to return to a brand new venue this week, as Plainfield Country Club gets its turn in the rotation.
He may soon have another title defense at a different course, too. Plainfield gives way to Bethpage Black next year and based on his leaderboard status at the already-shortened tournament entering the final round, Kuchar may have the inside track on returning as a conquering hero to a course on which he didn’t conquer.
“Right now, I'm three for three with not being able to defend on the same course,” Kuchar said. “Somebody told me if I won this week, I won’t defend on the same golf course again next year. But I am a fan of the rotation. I think there are so many great courses in the metro area up here. I think rotation is a good thing.”
Course rotation, that is. As for rotating places on the leaderboard with his fellow FedEx Cup contenders, Kuchar is perfectly fine with his reigning title of Baron of The Barclays, as he attempts to win a second straight on Saturday.
That’s right – Saturday. Due to the impending effects of Hurricane Irene later this weekend, tournament officials elected to shorten the event to 54 holes, the final 18 of which will be played early Saturday morning in an effort to clear the course before the heavy stuff starts coming down.
A lengthy delay on Thursday already meant that more than half of the field was forced to conclude their opening rounds on Friday morning. That group included Kuchar, who polished off a tidy 8-under 63, then turned right around and shot 6-under 65 in his second frame on a short, soft course that has witnessed more birdies over the first two days than the Audubon Society.
“To me, it seems like any time you have soft conditions, it doesn't matter how long, doesn't matter how deep the rough is, some guys are going to figure out a way to make a bunch of birdies,” explained Kuchar, who has already posted 15 of ‘em through 36 holes. “I think the kind of biggest determining factor in how hard a course plays and how difficult it is to make birdies is how firm greens are. I think when you have really firm greens, it becomes difficult to get a ball close to the hole and difficult to chip balls close to the hole. I think the scores are just a lot less under par with firm conditions.”
Don’t expect this course to firm up at all for the final round. The forecast calls for early showers before the deluge, which means plenty of pin seeking in what should ultimately turn into a Saturday shootout.
Though he’s not the typical how-low-can-you-go type of streaky performer, Kuchar isn’t unfamiliar with the occasional birdie barrage, as his average of 3.88 per round ranks 17th this season.
Talk about quixotic statistics, though, and it’s his round-by-round scoring average in which something’s gotta give. Kuchar ranks third on the PGA Tour in Saturday scoring average, but just 46th in the final round. Considering his next 18 holes will come on both a Saturday and in the final round, it’s a mystery as to which one will prevail this time around.
“Good question, good question,” he responded with a laugh. “Right now I'm putting myself in pretty good position and I think the thing I'll try to stay most focused on is just trying to defend The Barclays.”
If he does, once again Kuchar will travel to a venue on which he hasn’t won, but as the defending champion. It’s a strange scenario, but not an unfamiliar one. And certainly not an unwelcome one should it happen again next year.