Thursday, June 21, 2018

Matt Kuchar wins Players Championship

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The biggest complaint about Matt Kuchar is that he doesn't win enough. He picked up a big win Sunday at the Players Championship.

Kuchar avoided the big mistakes that slowed many other contenders — starting with playing partner Kevin Na — and kept it out of the water at TPC Sawgrass to eliminate the kind of drama he didn't need. He closed with 2-under 70 for a two-shot victory at 13-under 275 over a group of four.

"You think of this as one of the strongest fields in golf. To come out as the champion is just an amazing feeling. … It really is magical," said Kuchar, 33.

Shaking off a three-putt bogey at the watery 17th hole, Kuchar split the fairway at No. 18 and found the middle of the green. From there it was a simple two-putt for his fourth career victory, this one for golf's richest title, a purse of $1.7 million. Kuchar celebrated on the green with his wife, Sybi, and two sons, Cameron and Carson, and hugged and high-fived his mother, Meg.

Na entered the day with a one-shot lead over Kuchar. Along with the pressure of trying to win, he had to put up with heckling. Already considered a slow player, he struggles to take the club back without practice swings and waggles, and over the ball he could hear fans saying, "Pull the trigger" and "Hit it."

"I backed off, and they're booing me," Na said. "I said, 'Look, guys, I backed off because of you guys.' … But it is what it is."

Na had a three-shot lead early in the round with a birdie on No. 2, but he fell apart quickly. Na made four bogeys in five holes to close out the front nine in 39, and his hopes ended with a tee shot into the water on the par-3 13th. He closed with 4-over 76 to finish five shots behind.

Kuchar's win was his first since the 2010 Barclays, when Martin Laird three-putted the last hole and lost in a playoff. Laird on Sunday made the strongest run on a cloudy, breezy day, tying for the lead with his third straight birdie on No. 12. He nearly went in the water on the 18th, missed a 6-foot par putt for 67 and wound up tied for second at 11-under 277.

"One of the best rounds I've ever played under the circumstances and the conditions," Laird said.

Rickie Fowler, going for his second straight win and his second on the PGA Tour, tried to make it interesting with a birdie on the island-green 17th to get within two shots of Kuchar. Kuchar watched from across the water on the 16th green and then rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt to give him a three-shot lead.

Fowler missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th and shot 70 to become one of the runnersup. The others were Ben Curtis (68) and Zach Johnson (68).

Luke Donald finished alone in sixth after 66, not enough to replace Rory McIlroy at No. 1 in the world.

Tiger Woods shot 40 on his front nine and rallied for 73, at least finishing under par at 1-under 287. He tied for 40th, the first time in his career he has finished no better than 40th in three straight tournaments. The streak began after a five-shot win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25 for his first tour title in 30 months.

"Just keep working. Keep working," Woods said when asked what he could take out of the week.

Final leaderboard

Matt Kuchar68-68-69-70275-13

Martin Laird65-73-72-67277-11

Zach Johnson70-66-73-68277-11

Rickie Fowler72-69-66-70277-11

Ben Curtis68-71-70-68277-11

Luke Donald 72-69-72-66 279 -9

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