Kuchar’s improbable bunker shot nets him a tartan jacket at RBC Heritage

ablondin@thesunnews.comApril 20, 2014 

RBC Heritage Golf

Matt Kuchar celebrates after sinking a birdie putt from the bunker on the 18th green to win the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 20, 2014. Kuchar won the tournament with 11-under par. (AP Photo/The Island Packet, Jay Karr)

JAY KARR — AP

— It sure looked as though Matt Kuchar had let yet another opportunity for a victory slip through his grasp Sunday afternoon.

For the fourth consecutive week on the PGA Tour, Kuchar was in the lead during a final round.

He stormed up the leaderboard in the 46th RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links with birdies on seven of the first 11 holes to take a lead at 11 under, and held a one-shot edge over Luke Donald with two holes to play.

Just as he had in the three previous weeks, Kuchar stumbled, this time with a three-putt from a mere 4 feet for a bogey on the 17th hole.

But rather than fret over his failure, Kuchar instead provided one of the more memorable shots in RBC Heritage history on the 18th hole. He holed out from the front bunker for a birdie that culminated a final-round 7-under 64 for a one-shot win over Donald at 11-under 273.

“I actually looked at Lance [Bennett], my caddie, and said, ‘It’s not that bad of a place. I can do something with that,’” said Kuchar, who was 56 feet from the pin with a slight uphill lie into the wind. “It was so cool to see that thing go in.”

As the ball rolled into the cup, Kuchar lifted his right arm with a closed fist, then ripped his hat off his head and swung it in celebration. “I didn’t know what to do. I was pumped up and the roar was so loud,” Kuchar said. “I heard the crowd go crazy when the thing disappeared and I went crazy myself. It was just an incredible feeling.”

Donald, who entered the final round with a two-shot lead – four shots over Kuchar – had three holes to play after the hole-out. He was unable to hole relatively long birdie putts on 16 and 17, fanned his approach short and right of the 18th green and needed to hole a chip that rolled within an inch of the cup at a speed that could have easily dropped.

“Obviously not a great [second] shot into 18, just trying to hit a draw in there and just came out of it,” Donald said. “I would have loved to have given myself a better chance at 18 than that.”

As Kuchar has two weeks off the PGA Tour to celebrate, Donald has the next two weeks to move past the disappointment of another missed chance at Harbour Town. He has finished third or better five times in the past six years without a victory.

“Disappointing, obviously, not to have won,” Donald said. “Usually a solid 69 on a windy day with a two-shot lead is enough to get it done on Sundays. But Matt played a hell of a round.”

That round included the shocking three-putt on the par-3 17th following a stellar tee shot. The comeback par putt was barely two feet, and Kuchar said he was impacted by winds of 20-plus mph on the green exposed to marsh along Calibogue Sound.

“When the wind is blowing as hard as it does, it feels a little unsteady,” Kuchar said. “… I was in a little bit of shock, but I think I do a really good job of shaking things off. I did a great job of shaking it off really quickly.”

Kuchar said the disappointments of the past three weeks didn’t enter his mind after the misstep on the 17th. He hadn’t won despite holding at least a share of the lead on the final nine of the Valero Texas Open and Shell Houston Open – where he hit into water on the 18th to bogey and lose in a playoff – and grabbing a share of the lead early in the final round of the Masters.

“That didn’t cross my mind,” said Kuchar, who promptly hit his best drive on the 18th hole of the week. “I didn’t go, ‘Man, this is four weeks in a row I might now win a tournament.’ That’s not part of the deal. I’ve got 18 to play. So I think just having the 18th hole still out there, my focus went solely to that.”

Kuchar began the final round 4 under and stormed up the leaderboard with birdies on holes 1, 2, 4, 6, 8 and 9 to shoot a 6-under 30 on the front nine – two shy of the tournament’s front-nine record – and he added a birdie on the 10th. He made pars until the hiccup on the 17th.

It was one of his few mistakes since Friday, when Kuchar double-bogeyed two of the final three holes he played in the second round before play was suspended for the day because of heavy rain and wind. Kuchar had dropped from a tie for first to 16th with the doubles, and the break may have saved the tournament for him.

“The rain break was a big bonus for me,” Kuchar said. “… I felt like double bogeys were popping up all over my scorecard. It wasn’t a normal thing for me. I was really grateful for the horn to go off and to get a chance to regroup.”

The Heritage win is Kuchar’s seventh on the PGA Tour and fourth in less than two full years, as he’s become possibly the tour’s most consistent player. The 35-year-old Georgia Tech graduate is a cut-making, top-10 machine.

He has made 10 cuts and has eight top-10 finishes in 11 starts this year. Last season he won twice, had two runner-up finishes and didn’t miss a cut in 23 tournaments to finish second in FedExCup points, and in 2012 he missed one cut in 22 events with nine top-10s and a win. Since 2010, he’s missed just six cuts in 108 tournaments.

“It’s amazing to have four straight weeks of chances on four completely different golf courses,” Kuchar said. “I take a lot of pride in playing good week in and week out, and this has been some excellent play.”

He’s particularly happy to have a tartan jacket. “This is one of my favorite courses we play all year,” Kuchar said. “I absolutely love it. I love the layout. The more I play it, the more I understand how great of a golf course this actually is. Then to put my name on a list of champions here that is so great, this means a lot to me.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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