Matt Kuchar bested Hunter Mahan 2&1 in a well-fought final duel at Dove Mountain in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Fighting strong winds and chilly temperatures in Arizona — of all places — Kuchar took advantage of early bogeys made by his competitor Mahan, who had not previously trailed at any point during his prior five matches.
But just like that, Kuchar birdied No. 8 to go 4-up heading into the back nine.
What looked like a runaway victory by Kuchar didn’t happen, as Mahan fought back, birdieing Nos. 11-12 and Nos. 14-15. Mahan, the defending champion, won No. 16 when Kuchar hit it over the green and didn’t get up-and-down for par.
“He played a fantastic back side, just really kind of put the pressure back on me,” said Kuchar, referring to Mahan’s battle back. “You could feel Hunter gaining the momentum. I had that 4‑up lead on the front, and then every hole was just so difficult with the conditions the way they were today that there was just a bogey around any corner, and Hunter made a couple birdies there to put some pressure on me.
“Fortunately he slipped on his approach shot, or not slipped, he missed his approach shot on 13 to kind of give me the advantage there, and then bounced right back and stuffed it on 14, and it looked like we were having just a fight to the end.
“A lot of credit goes to Hunter for staying and fighting the way he did. That 4‑down deficit had to be tough for him at the turn where things could have easily gone quickly to finish the match out had he not put the pedal down and really started playing some good golf.”
With two to play, Kuchar was 1-up. It didn’t end pretty too pretty as Mahan conceded No. 17 after he found himself stuck in a greenside waste area, while Kuchar had a five-footer for birdie.
Similar to Luke Donald in 2011, Kuchar never played the 18th hole the entire week. Donald and Kuchar are the only two players in the history of the Accenture Match Play Championship to capture the title without playing the final hole in any of their six matches.
Kuchar’s path to the Championship Match:
R1: Defeated Hiroyuki Fujita (No. 44), 3 and 2
R2: Defeated Sergio Garcia (No. 12), 2 and 1
R3: Defeated Nicolas Colsaerts (No. 37), 4 and 3
QF: Defeated Robert Garrigus (No. 36), 3 and 2
SF: Defeated Jason Day (No. 41), 4 and 3
FINAL: Defeated Hunter Mahan (No. 23), 2 and 1
Kuchar credits his instructor Chris O’Connell for helping with his resurgence from a stellar amateur career to a middling pro and then back to the elite echelons of the world.
“(Chris) really helped rebuild my game,” said Kuchar in his post-victory press conference. “That was in 2006, I found my way back on the Nationwide Tour, got introduced to Chris O’Connell, we started working, and he’s turned me into the golfer I am today. I mean, just my work with him, I’ve become so much more consistent of a player. 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.”
No doubt. Kuchar is known for his consistency as a top-ten machine. After capturing The Players title last season and now the WGC Match Play Championship, the easy and hackneyed question is, what’s next? It must be a major, right?
(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)