Kuchar won The Barclays with a sensational shot out of the rough to beat Martin Laird with a birdie in a playoff. The victory assures he will be at East Lake in Atlanta – which the Georgia Tech grad considers a home course – to play the Tour Championship for the first time.
Woods tied for 12th and gets to go to Boston for the second round of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
A small step for one, a giant leap for another.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of winning,” said Kuchar, who moved up to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, No. 1 on the PGA Tour money list and a career-best No. 10 in the world ranking. “You feel like you’re the best player in the world for this week.”
And he was, with help from Laird, who needed only two putts from just inside 25 feet to win on the final hole.
Woods hasn’t won in more than nine months, a strange sensation for a guy with 82 wins around the world. His primary goal Sunday was to do well enough to move inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings to qualify for the second round of the playoffs at the TPC Boston. He shot a 67 – the first time since the Masters that he broke 70 in the final round – and moved from No. 112 to No. 65.
Better yet, he thinks a victory might not be far away.
“I haven’t won all year,” Woods said. “But this is a week that I was very close. I felt that if I would have putted better for all four days, I would have been right there. Looking forward to next week.”
Kuchar was having his best year on the PGA Tour, missing only a victory. It didn’t look as though that would change at Ridgewood.
Having closed with a 5-under 66, playing his final 24 holes in regulation without a bogey, he headed for the practice range in case it was good enough to force a playoff. Laird took the lead with a birdie on the par-5 17th, then made a terrific escape out of the rough and under the trees to just inside 25 feet above the hole.
“Once he hit that great shot just to the back fringe on 18, I was pretty much shutting down my practice sessions,” Kuchar said. “I went over and was just a spectator, thinking that he’s got this wrapped up.”
It all changed so suddenly.
Laird ran his putt 7 feet by the hole and missed the comeback putt for par. Then came the shot that got these FedEx Cup playoffs off to a rousing start – a 7-iron from 192 yards out of the rough that scooted through the green, caught the back ramp, turned to the left toward the hole and settled 30 inches away for the winning birdie.
It changed the outcome of the tournament, and Kuchar’s perspective on the year.
“I knew if I put myself in contention enough times I was going to break through,” Kuchar said. “And I’m awfully excited to have it here at the Barclays. It’s a great place, the start of our FedEx Cup playoffs. I don’t know if I would put many events much higher on the list.”
Kuchar is assured of going to East Lake, and now has a decent shot at winning the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize.
Along the way, he got a little training for the Ryder Cup.
Winning sure helps. Kuchar and Jeff Overton are the only Americans among the eight who earned their way onto the team who have not won this year, and the 32-year-old is sure to get a shot of confidence leading up to the Oct. 1-3 matches in Wales.
The way he won can only help.
He hopped in a cart with rules official Mark Russell, the crowd chanting and cheers.
“I told him, ‘This is great prep for the Ryder Cup,”’ Kuchar said. “I’m in a match play situation, I’ve got a playoff and I’ve got people going crazy. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put that in the memory bank and go with it come Ryder Cup time.”
Plus, he was playing a European – Laird is a 27-year-old from Scotland.
Laird had a five-shot lead early on when he started with two birdies, but a double bogey on the par-5 third hole sent him tumbling back to the pack, and a half-dozen others entertained thoughts of winning. That included Dustin Johnson, who was still in the hunt until missing an 8-foot birdie on the 15th, then making bogeys on the next two holes in a desperate attempt to catch up. He shot 72.
Laird recovered, though, and he was tied with Kuchar when he had a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th, only to roll it nearly 8 feet beyond the hole. He made that birdie putt to take the lead. Faced with a similar situation – this time needing two putts for the win – Laird repeated his mistake and this time didn’t escape.
“Obviously, not the finish I was looking for,” said Laird, who shot a 71. “But I’m very proud of the way I played today. “I was kind of battling all day, and probably holed two or three of the biggest putts I’ve ever holed just to be where I was.”
The only consolation for Laird was being safe through next month in the playoffs. He was at No. 95, hopeful of advancing to the second round, and his runner-up finish puts him at No. 3 and virtually guarantees he’ll be among the top 30 at the Tour Championship.
As for Woods, he can only hope he makes it to Atlanta.
His tie for 12th – the highest for him since a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open – gives him a good chance of staying in the top 70 who go to the third round at Cog Hill outside Chicago. Only the top 30 make it to Atlanta, but Woods at least is going in the right direction.
“The next three events, the next three venues, I’ve won on,” Woods said, referring to past victories at the TPC Boston, Cog Hill and East Lake. “So I’m going to three venues I’m very familiar with, and I’m looking forward to it.”