Nov
28
2011
Kuchar-Woodland Duo Bring the World Cup Back to the U.S.
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Dream team USA with their better halves!

The United States captured the World Cup for the first time since 2000 when Tiger Woods and David Duval represented the country. Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland ended the 11-year dry spell on Sunday, shooting a five-under 67 at Mission Hills to overcome a two-stroke deficit at the start of the day and finish two shots better than Team Germany and Team England.

Kuchar and Woodland, both making their debut at the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, also became the first set of rookies to win since Mark O’Meara and Tiger Woods in 1999.

To be honest, I was a little caught off guard when I woke up to headlines saying Kuchar and Woodland had won the World Cup. I hadn’t been following the event too closely, but I had been browsing the PGA Tour’s daily wrap-up notes after each round (which is conveniently sent via email) and the focus seemed to be on Team Australia, which led the first two days, and then on Ireland, with the superstar duo of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy holding a two-shot lead through 54 holes.

Team England — Ian Poulter and Justin Rose — kept us apprised of their play via Twitter. And Team Germany and Team South Africa made some noise on Saturday after posting 61s. They shot an incredibly impressive 63 on Sunday to finish tied for second. 63 in alternate shot. Wow. That’s ridiculous. Do you know how hard that is?? Really hard.

I think I assumed G-Mac and Rory would seal the deal on Sunday, but apparently Rory missed several short putts, which dropped them back to a tie for fourth. Via the AP:

World No. 2 McIlroy was well below his best, hitting some loose shots, including a putt on the 18th which would of given Ireland a share of the runner-up check. The tournament favorites had a run of misfortune, including a penalty stroke on the 6th and four bogeys on the card.

Kuchar and Woodland flew under the radar, but got the job done. The United States birdied all four of the par-5s for the second time this week (Round 1). Overall, the U.S. squad was 10-under-par on the 12 par-5 holes, with a total of 29 birdies vs. five bogeys on the week.

“We really clicked. It’s fantastic to win for the U.S.,” Woodland said.

Kuchar credited the duo’s ability to regain momentum with birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 after bogeying the 11th.

“Undoubtedly the shots on the 12 and 13th were key. It was a great moment and to shoot a par when you expected a bogey,” Kuchar said.

The final-round format was foursomes (alternate shot) and it’s no surprise Kuchar and Woodland made a great team (I’m sure 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III was paying close attention). Woodland, a natural athlete who played Division II basketball for a year before transferring to join the golf team at Kansas, hits the ball a mile and complements Kuchar’s steady game and solid putting.

Smart choice by Kuchar for picking Woodland — the lowest-ranked American is automatically chosen to represent the country each year and then gets to select his partner.

Alan Shipnuck put it best, tweeting: “Strong win by Woodland/Kuchar at the World Cup. I’m very bullish on Woodland – he could be a better Dustin Johnson than Dustin Johnson.”

I couldn’t agree more. I knew Woodland was going to be scary good after he lost in a playoff to Jhonattan Vegas at the Bob Hope Classic. He explained he was still learning the game. It only takes one look at his swing to realize he’s a natural athlete. And it only takes attending one press conference to recognize he’s fiercely competitive and a hard worker.

Some snippets from his post-victory presser at the Transitions Championship in March:

“I got out here in ’09. I wasn’t a very good golfer. I was athletic, but I didn’t know what I was doing out here. I got hurt and I had time to step back and really figure out how to play this game. And I’m starting to figure that out right now.”

“I can’t come out here and hit the golf ball 900 yards and win,” said Woodland. “I’ve been playing well, but I didn’t feel comfortable with my game last week. I flew in to see Randy Smith and he talked to me on Sunday, saying, the guys that win here are very conservative, they’re veterans and we’re going to have to play a very conservative game plan.”

“It wasn’t being in contention that I was ever going to struggle with, it was getting in contention,” said Woodland. “It was learning how to play this game. Once I learned how to play, we thought we’d be pretty good. The whole deal with me is learning to play the game.”

I’m going to make a totally bold prediction. Since Woodland has gotten a better grasp of the game — at least a little bit — in the past 11 months, I bet he’ll win twice in 2012. Right now he’s a streaky putter, but if or when he becomes more consistent with the flatstick, well, he’ll be a better Dustin Johnson than Dustin Johnson.

Um, who else is already excited for the Ryder Cup?!

(AP Photo/Kin Cheung)