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.

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“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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Match-by-match: 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies, Day 1

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 10:32 pm

Here is how things played out on Day 1 of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, as 64 players take on Austin Country Club with hopes of advancing out of pool play:

Group 1: (52) Bernd Wiesberger def. (1) Dustin Johnson, 3 and 1: Down goes the defending champ. Johnson never trailed in any match en route to victory last year, and he won five holes against Wiesberger. But that wasn't enough as the Austrian turned an all-square affair into an upset victory by winning three straight from Nos. 15-17.

Group 1: (32) Kevin Kisner vs. (38) Adam Hadwin, halved: This was a tight one throughout, as neither player held more than a 1-up lead. Kisner held a lead for much of the back nine, but Hadwin birdied the 17th to draw even and the match was halved when they both made par on the final hole.

Group 2: (2) Justin Thomas def. (60) Luke List, 2 up: In perhaps the most entertaining match of the morning, Thomas edged List in a rematch of last month's Honda Classic playoff despite List spending much of the round putting with a wedge after bending his putter. Thomas was 3 up with four to play before List pushed the match the distance.

Group 2: (21) Francesco Molinari def. (48) Patton Kizzire, 3 and 1: Molinari turned a tight match into a victory thanks to a few timely errors from Kizzire. Pars on Nos. 14 and 17 were good enough to win the hole for Molinari, with the latter sealing his victory and moving him a step closer to a potential winner-take-all battle with Thomas on Friday.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth def. (49) Charl Schwartzel, 2 and 1: The top seed in the group scored an early point in a battle between former Masters champs. Spieth never trailed and took control of the match with three straight wins on Nos. 12-14.

Group 4: (19) Patrick Reed def. (34) Haotong Li, 3 and 2: Reed's much-anticipated match with Spieth is still two days away, but he dispatched of Li in his opener by winning the opening hole and never trailing the rest of the way. Li got to within one of Reed after 10 holes but the American won three of the next five to separate.

Group 5: (5) Hideki Matsuyama def. (53) Yusaku Miyazato, 2 and 1: This all-Japanese battle went to the group's top seed, as Matsuyama poured in a birdie on the par-3 17th to close out the match. Miyazato got off to a strong start, holding a 2-up lead through six holes, before Matsuyama turned the tables with two birdies over the next three holes.

Group 5: (46) Cameron Smith def. (30) Patrick Cantlay, 2 up: Smith never trailed in the match, but it turned into a closer contest than it appeared when the Aussie held a 3-up lead with four holes to play. Uihlein won the next two holes, but he couldn't get any closer as Smith earned a critical victory as he looks to earn a Masters spot by staying in the top 50 in the world rankings after this week.

Group 6: (57) Peter Uihlein def. (6) Rory McIlroy, 2 and 1: McIlroy won last week at Bay Hill, but he's now playing catch up after a decisive loss to Uihlein. The American held a 5-up lead before McIlroy reeled off five straight birdies to cut the lead to 2-up, but a par from Uihlein on the 17th hole sealed the upset.

Group 6: (18) Brian Harman vs. (44) Jhonattan Vegas, halved: This was a tight match throughout, with Harman clinging to a 1-up lead for most of the back nine. But Vegas rolled in a birdie putt on the final green to salvage half a point, much to the delight of the Austin galleries who were out supporting the former Longhorn.

Group 8: (8) Jason Day def. (56) James Hahn, 4 and 2: Day is a former winner of this event, and he separated from Hahn on the back nine to score an early point. Hahn offered a concession on No. 13 to fall 3 down, then conceded again on No. 16 to close the match.

Group 8: (25) Louis Oosthuizen def. (42) Jason Dufner, 1 up: Oosthuizen appeared poised for an easy point before Dufner rallied with three straight wins on Nos. 14-16 to square the match. But Oosthuizen regained a lead with a par on No. 17 and held on for a hard-fought victory.

Group 9: (58) Ian Poulter def. (9) Tommy Fleetwood, 3 and 2: The match between Englishman went to the veteran, as Poulter took his putter from the 2012 Ryder Cup out of the closet and put it to quick use. Fleetwood won only two holes during the match, none after the eighth hole, and he now faces the prospect of early elimination as the group's top seed.

Group 9: (33) Kevin Chappell def. (26) Daniel Berger, 3 and 2: Chappell and Berger were Presidents Cup teammates in the fall, but the opener went to Chappell. Berger won the 13th hole to draw all square, but Chappell reeled off three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16 in response to close out the match.

Group 11: (64) Julian Suri def. (11) Marc Leishman, 3 and 2: Suri was the last man to get into the field following the withdrawal of Joost Luiten, but he's already on the board with an early point. Suri won each of the first two holes and never trailed in the match, closing out Leishman with a birdie on the par-5 16th.

Group 11: (35) Bubba Watson def. (23) Branden Grace, 5 and 3: Watson was absolutely unstoppable in the biggest rout of the day. The two-time Masters champ made seven birdies over his first nine holes, making the turn with a 6-up advantage. Grace never stood a chance.

Group 12: (12) Tyrrell Hatton def. (55) Alexander Levy, 3 and 2: Hatton won the opening hole with a par and never trailed the rest of the way. Levy's win on the eighth hole proved to be his only victory of the day, as Hatton barely had to break a sweat after building a 3-up lead through five holes.

Group 12: (36) Brendan Steele def. (22) Charley Hoffman, 1 up: Steele never trailed in the match and at one point held a 4-up lead, but coming down the stretch it took everything he had to keep Hoffman at bay. Hoffman won four in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 13-17, but a par on the final hole was enough to give Steele the full point.

Group 13: (61) Kevin Na def. (13) Alex Noren, 4 and 2: The biggest upset from the early matches came here, as Na turned a close contest into a blowout. The two men were all square after 11 holes, but Na won three of the next four and then closed out the match when Noren conceded on the par-5 16th.

Group 13: (29) Tony Finau def. (39) Thomas Pieters, 2 and 1: Two of the longest hitters in the field squared off in this tilt, with Finau notching a full point despite losing two of the first three holes. The American birdied the 15th to take a 2-up lead, then closed out Pieters with a par on the 17th hole.

Group 14: (59) Charles Howell III def. (14) Phil Mickelson, 3 and 2: Mickelson is making his first start since his WGC win in Mexico, but he's now on the ropes after Howell put together a strong back nine that included three birdies in a four-hole stretch from Nos. 10-13 to take control of the match.

Group 14: (17) Rafael Cabrera-Bello def. (40) Satoshi Kodaira, 2 and 1: Cabrera-Bello made a run to the semifinals at this event two years ago, and he's off to another good start following a match in which he never trailed and lost only three holes. With the match tied through 11 holes, Cabrera-Bello's birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 proved pivotal.

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez vs. (50) Si Woo Kim, halved: The first match of the day ended up in a draw, as the top seed rallied from a deficit to salvage half a point. Kim won three of the first six holes and held a 3-up lead with seven holes to go, but Perez fought back with four birdies over the next six holes to draw even.

Group 15: (24) Gary Woodland vs. (37) Webb Simpson, halved: This group remains entirely up for grabs since nothing was decided on the opening day. Woodland took a 3-up lead at the turn, but Simpson rallied by winning four of the next seven holes, including a birdie on No. 17 that brought him back to all square for the first time since the third hole.

Group 16: (16) Matt Kuchar vs. (54) Zach Johnson, halved: This draw likely felt like a victory for Johnson, who was facing a 4-down deficit with four holes to play before closing with four straight birdies to steal half a point.

Group 16: (47) Yuta Ikeda def. (27) Ross Fisher, 2 and 1: Ikeda now holds the top spot in the group after ousting Fisher, who made the quarterfinals last year. Ikeda squared the match with wins on Nos. 6 and 7 before a pivotal birdie on No. 15 gave him a 2-up lead he would not relinquish.

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Aggressiveness pays off for Spieth vs. Schwartzel

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 9:32 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – On Tuesday, Jordan Spieth said he hoped this week’s format would free him up and allow him to play more aggressively.

Although that wasn’t the case early in his Day 1 match against Charl Schwartzel, Spieth was able to get his week off to a solid start with a 2-and-1 victory.

After playing his first nine holes in even par, Spieth moved ahead in the match when Schwartzel made bogey at the par-5 12th hole and the American hit his approach at the par-4 13th hole to 3 feet, a shot he said was “pivotal,” and he added another birdie at the 14th hole to pull away.

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“I had a couple of iffy numbers and some swirly winds. I did not play aggressively,” Spieth said of his opening nine. “Once I got a couple numbers where I could put really nice, solid swings on, zeroed in at the target with no worry about anything else around, I did just that and it led to three or four birdies from the eighth hole on. You have to go at flagsticks to make birdies here.”

The early victory puts Spieth on a collision course with Patrick Reed, who also won his first-day match against HaoTong Li, 3 and 2. Spieth and Reed, who are a combined 7-2-2 when teamed together in the Ryder and Presidents Cup, will play each other in the final day of round-robin play on Friday.

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List takes Thomas to 18 putting with a wedge

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 7:57 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – As he walked off the sixth tee on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Luke List “swiped” his putter into what he thought was a bush. It was a wall.

List’s putter bent slightly, which meant he wasn’t allowed to employ it the rest of the round. Using a wedge to putt, he lost his opening-day match to Justin Thomas, 2 down.

“Stupid on my part,” List said. “I'll get the club fixed and go on to my next two matches.”

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Despite his putting disadvantage, List pushed Thomas to the 18th hole thanks to birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 16, which included a chip-in from 18 feet at 15. Thomas was 3 up with four holes to play and managed to birdie the last, but it was far from stress-free.

“I was thinking about it, how bad that would hurt if I couldn't get it done,” Thomas said. “He hit some great putts and he made some good ones when he needed to.”

The situation also prompted Thomas to change his strategy on the greens, with not nearly as many conceded putts as normal.

“He putted probably two or three putts I wouldn't have made him putt with a putter,” Thomas said. “[No. 13] was a short putt he's probably going to make. It had a lot of break. But 12, that putt was 2 feet straight uphill. But I was like he's got a wedge, so I'm going to make him putt it.”

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Group standings at WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 21, 2018, 7:45 pm

Here are the group standings for pool play at the 2018 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in Austin, Texas. The player with the most points in each pool advanced to Saturday's Round of 16 in Austin, Texas. Click here for scoring and click here for the bracket.

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4
(1) D. Johnson: 0-1-0 (2) J. Thomas: 1-0-0 (3) J. Rahm:  (4) J. Spieth: 1-0-0
(32) K. Kisner: 0-0-1 (21) F. Molinari: 1-0-0 (28) K. Aphibarnrat (19) P. Reed: 1-0-0
(38) A. Hadwin: 0-0-1
(48) P. Kizzire: 0-1-0 (43) C. Reavie (34) H. Li: 0-1-0
(52) B. Wiesberger: 1-0-0
(60) L. List: 0-1-0 (63) K. Bradley (49) C. Schwartzel: 0-1-0
Group 5 Group 6 Group 7 Group 8
(5) H. Matsuyama: 1-0-0 (6) R. McIlroy: 0-1-0 (7) S. Garcia (8) J. Day: 1-0-0
(30) P. Cantlay: 0-1-0
(18) B. Harman (20) X. Schauffele (25) L. Oosthuizen: 1-0-0
(46) C. Smith: 1-0-0 (44) J. Vegas (41) D. Frittelli (42) J. Dufner: 0-1-0
(53) Y. Miyazato: 0-1-0 (51) P. Uihlein: 1-0-0 (62) S. Sharma (56) J. Hahn: 0-1-0
Group 9 Group 10 Group 11 Group 12
(9) T. Fleetwood: 0-1-0 (10) P. Casey (11) M. Leishman: 0-1-0 (12) T. Hatton: 1-0-0
(26) D. Berger: 0-1-0 (31) M. Fitzpatrick (23) B. Grace: 0-1-0 (22) C. Hoffman: 0-1-0
(33) K. Chappell: 1-0-0 (45) K. Stanley (35) B. Watson: 1-0-0 (36) B. Steele: 1-0-0
(58) I. Poulter: 1-0-0 (51) R. Henley (64) J. Suri: 1-0-0 (55) A. Levy: 0-1-0
Group 13 Group 14 Group 15 Group 16
(13) A. Noren: 1-0-0 (14) P. Mickelson: 0-1-0 (15) P. Perez: 0-1-0 (16) M. Kuchar: 0-0-1
(29) T. Finau: 1-0-0 (17) R. Cabrera Bello (24) G. Woodland: 0-1-0 (27) R. Fisher: 0-1-0
(39) T. Pieters: 0-1-0 (40) S. Kodaira (37) W. Simpson: 0-1-0 (47) Y. Ikeda: 1-0-0
(61) K. Na: 0-1-0 (59) C. Howell III: 1-0-0 (50) S.W. Kim: 0-1-0 (54) Z. Johnson: 0-0-1