AUSTIN, Texas – When Matt Kuchar’s career started at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion and “Hook ‘Em Horns” favorite heading into the weekend at Austin Country Club, wasn’t in high school yet and the event was played in Arizona with a different title sponsor.
Even more defining is that Kuchar’s first victim, Anthony Kim, was playing just his second Match Play and has since mysteriously walked away from the game.
Along the way, the 44-year-old has left a trail of opponents that range from Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson to Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. He won the event in 2013, three years before the World Golf Championship relocated to Austin, and lost in the finals in 2019 to Kevin Kisner.
Matches and scoring from the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship
But the best testament to Kuchar’s longevity and match play prowess arrived Friday when he rolled over Si Woo Kim, 7 and 6, for his 36th victory in the event to tie the all-time record held by somebody named Tiger Woods.
“Getting a chance to tie any record of Tiger's is an amazing thing,” said Kuchar, who advanced to the knockout round with his Friday victory. “That's something I still find it hard to comprehend that I'm saying, that I tied one of his records. I'm hugely proud, pleased. There's 300 more records [Woods holds], I'm sure, to go, but it's a fun one to be able to say you've kind of got something you tied Tiger with.”
Kuchar said he was unaware of the record when he arrived in Austin for the final Match Play but admitted it crossed his mind late Thursday when he allowed the tying victory to slip through his fingers with a missed 5-footer for birdie on the 18th hole against Chris Kirk.
Kuchar – who has played 52 matches in his WGC career and lost just 11 times – would likely consider his next match his most important, but in a moment of forced self-reflection he allowed himself a chance to savor an accomplishment that was a decade and half in the making.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and doing it well for a long time to be able to have that many wins, to have the same as Tiger in Match Play record [books],” he said. “It's a nice kind of feather in the cap to think about, yeah, it's been good golf for a long time.”
The victory over Hunter Mahan in the 2013 final, 2 and 1, stands out, as does his victory over Watson in the ’11 consolation match. He even conceded that Friday’s triumph, albeit against a struggling Kim, was special for the historical context as well as the margin of victory, which was his largest in the event.
But most of all he’s proud of what the record, which he can claim as his own with a victory early Saturday in the Sweet 16, said about his game. Across the decades he held his own against many – but not all, with the odd exception being Woods, who he never played in the event – of the game’s best.
“It takes skill to win matches, and it also takes luck, and I've been a part of both of those. You need a guy who kind of cuts you some slack every now and then, give you a hole or two or miss a putt at one time,” he said. “I've realized that sometimes good or great golf loses matches. It's a tricky one. I've got a great record. This format's been great for me. But I know very well tomorrow I could go out and play great golf and get beat.”
There’s an element of serendipity to Kuchar’s timing. Officials announced earlier this spring that the Match Play will be removed from the PGA Tour schedule as part of a larger transition by the circuit to designated events with a focus on assembling the best fields possible. It makes Kuchar’s accomplishment somewhat bittersweet.
“I will. I will for sure,” he said when asked if he’ll miss the Match Play. “I think these events are great, 72 holes of stroke play every week sometimes runs together a bit. … match play, I certainly love, as you would guess with a good record, something unique, something different to do. I'm bummed this is the final year for it.”
Kuchar, who is represented by the same management company as Woods, said he doesn’t plan to reach out to Woods, at least not yet. “If tomorrow goes well, I might, though,” he smiled.