Matt Kuchar’s run Sunday came a little too late, but it provided some excitement nonetheless to patrons waiting for something to happen on the back nine at Augusta National Golf Club.
Kuchar played the five holes from 12-16 5-under par after being even par through his first 65 holes of the tournament to catapult into a tie for fourth at 5-under 283.
Kuchar birdied holes 12, 13 and 14 and made a hole in one on the 16th.
“It was steady golf for three rounds, really through four rounds,” Kuchar said. “But [the ace] was certainly was such a thrill and you kind of have the build‑up, which is so much fun, the anticipation of the crowd, and more often than not the ball slides by and guys get real excited and then a little ‘awww’ gets released. And when they flipped out it was just kind of pandemonium on the tee box and what a thrill.”
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Kuchar signed the ball and gave it to a young fan in the gallery on the 16th hole before proceeding to the 17th tee and making two closing pars.
“I think you see kids of a certain age and you know that a memento will be special to them,” Kuchar said. “The cool part of our job is making a kid’s day, and we have an opportunity to do that quite often.”
Kuchar’s three previous top-10s in his 11 Masters appearances came successively from 2012-14.
“It’s a 72‑hole tournament. The first hole Thursday means as much as No. 16 on Sunday. It’s every bit as important,” Kuchar said.
Spieth evokes Arnie
Jordan Spieth has kept the spirit of Arnold Palmer alive this week in his play.
The 2015 Masters champion evoked the late four-time Masters champion on Saturday when he faced a decision on the par-5 13th hole. He was in pine straw to the right of the fairway, 228 yards from the hole with a tree in his vision.
He could either lay up for a wedge shot over the creek fronting the green, or boldly go for the putting surface. Spieth said the yardage was perfect for a 4-iron.
Caddie Michael Greller lobbied for a lay up shot. Spieth recalled making birdie to that pin in each of the past two years by laying up down the left side and hitting a wedge close to the hole.
Instead, Spieth pulled the 4-iron and said to Greller. “What would Arnie do, Mike?” Greller responded, “He’d hit it right below it, 20 feet.” And Spieth said, “All right, let’s do that,” just before starting his swing that led to one of the best shots of the tournament, as his ball landed about 20 feet below the hole and led to a birdie.
“I thought in order to win this golf tournament … I hit my favorite shot I’ve ever hit in competition in my life on that hole going for it when we had that decision in 2015. And so there’s good vibes. You know, ‘What would Arnie do?’ was my way of expressing it to Michael, which we all know exactly what he would have done. And I’m proud that I pulled that shot off and it led to a 4, almost a 3.”
Stability in Sergio Garcia’s personal life may be helping his results on the course.
Garcia is engaged to Angela Akins, a former college golfer and former reporter for Golf Channel, where she was working when the two met.
The couple began dating in 2015, announced an engagement in January and have a wedding date in July.
Akins’ family, which includes father Marty, who was an All-American quarterback at Texas in the 1970s, is at Augusta National to follow and support Garcia.
Garcia has spoken this week of trying to be more calm and accepting of things on the golf course, and Akins may be helping him achieve that demeanor.
“All good things that happen to you in life help, with your profession, your job, whatever you want to call it. For me, it’s my hobby and job at the same time,” Garcia said. “So all those good things, and being surrounded by great people that, you know, are not afraid of telling you what’s wrong with something when you do something wrong, that’s something that I feel like I’ve always been very blessed with.”
Breaking the law
The four-shot penalty Lexi Thompson received last week was the subject of a lot of conversations early Masters week, conversations that resulted in some enlightening information.
Thompson was penalized for moving her ball slightly when replacing it on a green before attempting a putt. The apparent rules breach occurred in the third round, yet she wasn’t penalized until she was in the midst of her fourth round after a television viewer brought the breach to light.
The resounding theme regarding the penalty was it was unfair to penalize Thompson a day later. But it sparked additional conversations about rules breakers on professional tours.
“I know a number of guys on tour that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it,” Phil Mickelson said. “I mean, they will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.
“But I think it should be handled within the tour. I think that the tour should go to those players and say, ‘Look, we’ve noticed you’ve been a little lax in how precise you’ve been in marking the ball. We’d like you to be a little bit better at it,’ and see if that doesn’t just kind of fix the thing.”
Jack Nicklaus said he caught three players who he thought intentionally cheated on the PGA Tour during his playing days.
“I looked at my playing partner, and he came to me and we talked about it and we said, ‘If it happens again, what do you think?’ ” Nicklaus said. “So on three occasions, it happened again. Three occasions we took it quietly to the tournament director of the tournament and got out of it. Nothing was ever said publicly about it. If it’s blatant, then I think it’s not fair to the rest of the field not to bring it up. We govern ourselves.”
ESPN wrapped up its live coverage of the first and second rounds of the tournament on Friday and announced it earned a 1.8 rating on Friday, averaging more than 2.6 million viewers.
The telecast peaked at a 2.0 rating between 6-6:30 p.m., according to the network. Last year’s telecast of the second round earned a 2.2 rating and an average viewership of 3.06 million viewers.
The tournament was without Tiger Woods both years, and this year was also without world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who injured his back Wednesday and withdrew prior to his opening round tee time Thursday.
ESPN recorded its highest internet streaming numbers for the two days. Golf fans streamed a record 25.8 million total minutes, a 5 percent increase from 2016, and the two-day average minute audience of 46,812 was up three percent from 2016’s record of 45,313. Friday’s second round stream from 3-7:30 p.m. earned a record average minute audience of 49,038 viewers.