Matt Kuchar never seems to stop smiling. It’s nearly impossible to tell if he’s just made bogey or birdie because he has a perma-grin that kind of reminds me of the Joker. Don’t let the “aw, shucks” persona fool you, though. He clearly has the killer instinct to take down his opponents — not just on the golf course, but also on the ping pong table and tennis court — and win the biggest title of his career, The Players Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship event, often dubbed as the “fifth major.”
The victory also propelled him to a career-best No. 5 in the world golf rankings.
“He’s always smiling,” said Zach Johnson, a good friend and a fellow St. Simons Island resident. “I think that’s the beauty of Matt. I don’t think he ever takes himself too seriously…however he is as gritty a competitor and as fierce a competitor as I’ve ever been associated with.”
Kuchar, known for his consistency, stayed steady and pulled through to outlast the quartet of players at 11-under, Martin Laird, Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Ben Curtis. He only needed a bogey on No. 18 to close the deal. He made things easy and posted a par to shoot two-under 70, 13-under total.
Fowler put up a fantastic effort and birdied two of the last three. He dropped a 21-footer on the par-3 No. 17 for 2. Kuchar, who had a clear view of the 17th from the 16th green, had Rickie in the corner of his eye and saw him make the putt. Kuchar said it motivated him to roll in his 15-footer for birdie on No. 16, which he did.
“I was pretty excited to stick it right back to Rickie,” he said. “That was pretty awesome.
“I knew it got him to within two shots and he could birdie 18 to bring it within one. That could have changed the whole scenario of how I would have approached and played 18. So I was really excited to drop that birdie on 16. That was big.”
Meanwhile, Zach was playing two groups ahead of Kuchar. After he signed his scorecard for a four-under 68, Johnson did a few TV and radio interviews, before he politely excused himself.
“I’ve got to get to 18 to watch Kooch,” he said.
Unlike perhaps some of his fellow players, Kuchar didn’t let Kevin Na’s bizarre pre-shot routine and wearing waggles and whiffs disrupt his game.
“I feel like my mental game is one of my stronger suits,” he said. “I feel like not a whole lot gets under my skin. I’m good about letting things just roll off and not affect me.”
Kuchar is sneakily always in the mix. I nearly forgot he finished tied for third at the Masters last month. In 2010 he had 11 top-ten finishes and in 2011 he notched 9 and 19 top 25s. This season he already has five top-tens, including his win today, his fourth PGA Tour victory.
While he’s a bastion for consistency, he’s been criticized for not winning as much considering how often he’s in contention. When a scribe brought that up (it was some inside joke) during his post-victory press conference, Kuchar interrupted, raised his voice for effect, and said, jokingly, “Yeah, you can suck it, big guy.”
The room erupted with laughter.
Added Kuchar: “I’m really happy with the way my golf career has gone. I’ve played some great golf, some consistent golf. I never wanted to be the guy that won once a year and missed 10 cuts a year. I just didn’t think ‑‑ there are a lot of people that play good golf for a week and then miss a couple cuts. I wanted to be the guy ‑‑ and back when I was thinking about this, Tiger Woods was either winning or finishing second or third every week, and I wanted to figure out how do I get to be like that, how do I play good golf?
“Lately, Steve Stricker was that guy. It seemed like Steve Stricker was a guy that I could be more like than I could be like Tiger Woods. I can’t hit the shots Tiger Woods can. Steve and I play a similar game, just a consistent game, and that was a guy that I said, I’d like to play like him.”
Which is not the worst thing in the world. Prior to this week, Stricker had the longest active streak of consecutive cuts made with 49, which ended when he got the weekend off after shooting 76-74 at TPC Sawgrass. Kuchar now has that honor with 17 made cuts in a row.
“Very nice,” said Kuchar, in a “Borat” voice, when informed he had the longest cut streak.
(Getty Images/Mike Ehrmann)