Victories on big stages becoming routine for Kuchar

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February 24, 2013
Helen Ross,

MARANA, Ariz. -- Hunter Mahan played polar opposites on Sunday at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship, and with temperatures that dipped into the upper 30s when the wind chill was factored into the equation, that pun was certainly intended. 

First it was Ian Poulter, that maestro of match-play, whose steely eyes mirror the intensity he feels when he plays every shot. Once Mahan disposed of the bug-eyed Brit, though, he drew his good friend Matt Kuchar, who turned out to be an apple-cheeked assassin as he beat Mahan 2 and 1 to win the championship that annually attracts the best 64 players in the world.

The perpetually-smiling Kuchar has now won 14 of his last 16 matches at Dove Mountain where his kids love to come to see the snow. Kuchar was so dominant he never saw the 18th hole this week except during a practice session -- although Mahan mounted a back-nine charge that nearly changed that stat until his second shot was all-but stymied in desert flora at the 17th hole.

"I'm not sure I can explain how excited I am to have won this tournament," Kuchar said. "Match play I find to be such an amazing, unique format, so much fun to play and so much pressure. It seems like each hole there's so much momentum riding and so much pressure on every hole. To come out on top after six matches of playing guys, the top 64 guys in the world, it's an incredible feeling."

Players respond to pressure in different ways, though.

Kuchar joked that the white ski cap and those big cart gloves he wore between shots on Sunday enabled him to hide any signs of nervousness as he stalked his first World Golf Championships title. Mahan, though, knows behind that aw-shucks demeanor lies a determined competitor who won't give you any rope, unless it's to hang youself.

"He's more of like a Fuzzy (Zoeller) or Peter Jacobson kind of guy who likes to talk," explained Mahan, who came up just short in his title defense. "He's super competitive. I mean, there's no doubt about it. He plays golf to win, and he works hard at it. ...

"When you play against him, you know what you're going to get; you're going to get a competitive guy who's probably not going to make mistakes.  He's a joy to play with, though, he really is, because it's just fun to be around him. And the way he plays, it's going to make your play your best, as well."

Kuchar, who believe it or not once threw a club into the water as a kid and had his clubs confiscated as punishment, attributed his success on Sunday to the way he was able to stay in the moment.

"I did a great job today of being excited to hit the next shot," he said. "I knew that if I was to have a lapse of any sort mentally, physically ... that the match could swing, momentum could swing pretty quickly. It's easy to go astray here.

So I enjoyed being out there, I had a great time, but I was also very focused on what I was doing. Match play, you can't get too far ahead of yourself.  It's just every hole is so key that I think it keeps you a little bit more in the present, and I think that probably helped me a bit today."

Besides, Kuchar says he tends to dwell on the positive rather than the negative which can certainly be an asset in this pressure-packed format. Lose a hole? Not to worry. There's another opportunity on the next tee. He plays the course as long as he can, too, but is quick to react if his opponent is in trouble.

"I think that's probably one of the good things about my golfing makeup is my memory is not great," Kuchar said. "I know most people tend to remember the bad more than they remember the good. My mental makeup, I pretty much leave the bad in the past pretty easily."

That said, Kuchar remembers finding himself back on the Nationwide Tour in 2006 after losing his PGA TOUR card when he finished 159th on the money list. The former amateur phenom sought the counsel of instructor Chris O'Connell that year and together they have resurrected his game.

"I've become so much more consistent of a player," Kuchar said. "I was good in my younger days but streaky. I could be really good for a while and then struggle. And now I feel like I'm a golfer that can hit quality shots week in and week out, day in and day out."

After enduring a seven-year victory drought between his first win and his second, Kuchar has now won a PGA TOUR event in four of the last five years. The most recent wins are more cherished, too, because of the struggles that went before.

"So I understand and I appreciate the effort that goes into it and the challenge and the climb you have to make to get back to that winner's circle," Kuchar said. "I absolutely I think these wins are more special because of the hard times."

Kuchar has upped the ante with his last three victories, too, starting with The Barclays to kick off the FedExCup Playoffs in 2010. Kuchar won THE PLAYERS last year and now he has a World Golf Championships on his resume, as well.

"So many things were so cool to me about winning THE PLAYERS," Kuchar said. "I look at THE PLAYERS as having the strongest field in the game of golf on one of the most difficult courses. It also finished on Mother's Day. My mom had never been to a tournament that I had won. So to have all those things kind of come together was just a really special week.

"But to be here to win my first World Golf Championship in this format, to win six matches, to win two matches Saturday and two matches Sunday is just an amazing feeling.

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