Kuchar: the Reluctant Number-One American
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Matt Kuchar shot a stellar one-under 69 under brutal conditions at PGA National on Thursday. With the first round of the Honda Classic partially complete (12 players didn’t finish due to darkness), he’s two strokes behind leader Spencer Levin, who is playing in his 8th event in a row and finished second at last week’s Mayakoba Classic. Kuchar, who led the Tour in top-tens and held the best scoring average in 2010, continues to be one of the most consistent golfers on the PGA Tour — he already has four top-tens in five starts going into the week.

“I played great,” Kuchar told me and another reporter after his round. “One of the more difficult rounds of the year. This course is extremely difficult to begin with, and to throw in 20-30mph winds made it extremely challenging.

“I didn’t miss too many greens and I felt like I had a lot of opportunities for birdie, which is hard to believe considering today’s conditions. I hit it well, which was a difficult task. Putting was a difficult task — you have to allow so much break just for wind, it’s tough to do.”

Kuchar’s dad, Peter, who earned some notoriety at the ’98 US Open for irking Matt’s playing partners with his over-the-top cheerleading, was incredibly enthusiastic about his son’s excellent play. “What a great round,” he kept exclaiming behind the 18th green.

Kuchar hit several sloppy shots on the 10th and 11th holes, which resulted in consecutive bogeys. It appeared like the wheels might be falling off, but he bounced back and played the remaining seven holes one-under. He also survived the Bear Trap, the three-hole stretch of very difficult holes starting at 15.

“Our group played the Bear Trap really well — I want to say we played it at even par, which was quite impressive,” said Kuchar. “We thought playing 15 even par was great and then I think we all parred 16 and 17. There were just a lot of good golf shots.”

Asked how he felt about some dubbing him the best American at the moment, the ever-modest Kuchar paused and appeared almost uncomfortable with the title.

“It’s nice to be dubbed, but it’s not something I think about,” said Kuchar. “I feel like it doesn’t really concern me. Those are great things to write about, but I don’t watch the Golf Channel, I don’t read golf publications — I never felt like it would help me play better golf. Granted everything I do isn’t to help me play better golf, but I think some of the stuff will hurt you more than help you by getting too sucked in, reading the latest scoop or swing tip. I always thought as a player to do my best to avoid that stuff.”

He also doesn’t pay attention to stats, invoking the old adage “stats are for losers.”

“I can tell you how I’m hitting it,” said Kuchar. “I’m a good wedge player, I’m a good putter, I don’t drive it as far as the long hitters do — I don’t need stats to tell you that. I know how I stack up. I don’t see the info as important enough or that helpful.”

However, Kuchar takes pride in regularly being in contention.

“Leading the Tour in top-tens and stroke average (last year) shows some consistency over the year,” said Kuchar. “That’s something I’m really pleased with. I didn’t want to be a guy who won two tournaments a year, but missed ten cuts a year. I wanted to be a guy that had chances week in and week out and still won a few times, as well.”

If he’s not comfortable being called the best American golfer right now, he’ll take the most-consistent American title — which, to me, is just semantics.

(AP Photo/J Pat Carter)