Aug
29
2010
Kuch in the Clutch
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

Aside from Matt Kuchar’s phenomenal approach shot from the left rough into the first playoff hole — the one that rolled up to the very edge of the green and then curving around and back down to stop within two feet of the hole — my favorite moment was watching his son Cameron congratulate dad.

I was standing near the front of the green when I saw the two-year-old dodder up the green, slowly at first, but as he got closer to dad, he quickened his pace and eventually ran into his arms. It was one of those moments that I wished I had a camera (even just my point-and-shoot one). But I nudged photographer Allan Henry, who was standing next to me, so he could capture the Kodak moment.

As it happened, Kuchar beat Martin Laird in a playoff on the first extra hole with a birdie to win The Barclays, the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

With all the drama on Sunday — the European Ryder Cup captain’s picks, the ever-changing leaderboard, Dustin Johnson trying to win after Bunker-gate — it looked like the end was going to be rather anti-climactic all things considered. I followed Laird, who was playing with Johnson, for the last four holes, hoping DJ could muster a late run. I thought Laird had it in the bag after smacking his eagle attempt 12-feet past the hole, he drained the comeback for birdie.

Just twenty minutes earlier, SI’s Alan Shipnuck had wandered over to the 18th green and asked me what was happening. I shrugged nonchalantly and said, “Dustin’s done. Laird is on the green and just needs two putts from 20 feet to win. It’s over. Yawn.” Alan agreed and turned around to go back to the press tent. I almost followed him, but for some reason, I felt compelled to stay.

And then the almost unthinkable happened — except it’s not when you consider the circumstances — Laird rammed his birdie putt seven-feet past the cup. The gallery gasped in utter horror at the sight of Laird essentially throwing up all over himself. All he had needed to do was coax it near the hole, but he must have been overwhelmed with adrenaline. He missed his par putt.

Playoff time! And that ended with Kuchar hoisting a gigantic crystal trophy from The Barclays, which he may have filled with red wine to sip (or chug) in celebration tonight.

“I’m excited,” said Kuchar. “It’s been No. 1 on my goal list of what I’d like to accomplish for my year on the PGA TOUR for a number of years. I’ve wanted to get to East Lake. It’s a home game. It’s a course I know. It would be great to have friends and family to be there. To lock it up is a great feeling. It’s been a great year. But I knew even when I was coming in 9th into here, I knew there was potential to drop out. With five times the amount of points, I knew I had to keep playing.”

Kuchar went on explaining the quirky calculations his dad enjoys trying to make. Like at the Canadian Open, he said, “Way to go, Matt, I think you’ve solidified your Ryder Cup spot.”

A week ago, Kuchar’s dad also said, “So I’ve done the math and I think you’ve locked up your spot at East Lake [for the Tour Championship].” I said, “I’m pretty sure you haven’t done the math, dad.”

Kuchar laughed and so did the rest of us in the interview room because we all know that it’s impossible to figure out the FedEx Cup points system.

Before Sunday evening, Kuchar was the most consistent player this season, but there was one problem — he hadn’t won yet. He was still the guy you could rely on to be in the mix every week. Now, there’s an argument to be made that Kuchar should win the Player of the Year, which the players vote on at the end of the season. With ten top-ten finishes, he leads the PGA Tour in that department. He also first in all-around ranking, meaning every aspect of his game is steady and solid. At the majors, he placed T10 at the PGA Championship and T6 at the US Open. His worst showing was T27 at the British Open.

Asked who he’d vote for right now, the modest Kuchar appeared flustered and replied, “You’d have to show me a list. I’m glad I don’t have a vote for that. I’m glad I don’t. There’s been a lot of great performances. I’m not even going to try to think about it.”

But the players vote, so he’s going to have to at some point. Right?

“I normally pass that aside,” said Kuchar. “I try not to think about that. I let my wife or somebody else handle that for me.”

Everyone likes a humble winner.

[Photo by Kyle Auclair/Insidetheropes.com]