Kuchar triumphs at Sawgrass
Matt Kuchar won the biggest title of his life on Sunday, in the process denying Scot Martin Laird for a second time.
Matt Kuchar won the biggest and richest title of his life on Sunday – and in the process denied Scot Martin Laird for the second time.
Laird came desperately close to winning the prestigious Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida after starting the day six shots off the pace, but in the end a bogey at 18 and the resultant closing 5-under 67 simply weren’t enough.
When Laird missed his approach at a tense final hole and then missed his par-saving putt to finish in a tie for second with Americans Zach Johnson (68), Ben Curtis (68) and Rickie Fowler (69), at 11-under, Kuchar, playing at the back of the field found himself two shots clear and well placed to take away the World’s biggest first prize of $1.71 million (£1,063,000).
The lanky American, who, after this win and his third-place finish at the Masters, looks ready to win his first major in one of the three still to come this year, actually widened the gap between himself and the elite field with a slick up and down birdie at the 16th, but he promptly lost the shot by three-putting the intimidating island green at the short 17th.
If the group on 11-under thought this may signal a late collapse that would put them into a play-off, however, they were wrong.
The ever-smiling Kuchar hung on to his two-stroke lead and made sure of winning with a solid, chanceless par that raised a huge roar from the huge gallery packed around this stadium course’s 18th hole
It was Kuchar’s first title since The Barclays in 2010 – ironically where he defeated Laird in the play-off.
“It’s such an amazing feeling. It really is magical – I have so many people to thank. I only wish I had made the putt on 17 to make 18 easier to face,”
a relieved and delighted Kuchar said after capturing his first title since 2010 when somewhat ironically he beat Laird in the play-off at The Barclays.
Overnight leader Kevin Na, Kuchar’s playing partner, had a disappointing finish, making six bogeys in a 76 that saw him slip back into a tie for seventh a day after being heckled by spectators for his slow play and constant practice shots.
For a short while, Laird wasn’t the only one to re-spark a British challenge that had looked so strong on the first day when he shared the lead with England’s Ian Poulter.
For a brief spell, England’s Luke Donald seemed to have a whiff of a chance when he set the early clubhouse target at nine under with a sizzling 66 which featured a record-equalling back nine containing six birdies.
When he signed his scorecard, Donald was in a tie for third place, only two off the pace and in position to take back his World No 1 spot from Rory McIlroy, who, on Friday had missed the Sawgrass cut.
In the end, though, Donald had to settle for sole sixth place, three shots off the pace – and desperately short of reclaiming his world crown, sole 4th or better having been the minimum requirement.
Donald started his burst with a hat-trick of birdies from the 10th, then made putts of seven feet at the 15th and eight feet on the long 16th before making light work of the 17th where he hit his tee shot to five feet for yet another birdie.
He found trouble at the unforgiving last when he went from the rough into sand over the green, but rescued a par with his renowned bunker play
“Suddenly the putts clicked and I got on a nice little run. The wind direction was favourable and the greens were holding,” said Donald, who had started the day in 27th place and was speaking when Kuchar was not yet halfway through the closing stretch.
“I think I may be too far back, but I might have to stick around just in case. I don’t think it’s going to be quite enough, but I’m not going to fly back to Chicago just yet. I’ll put that on hold for a bit.”
Laird was understandably disappointed to have come so close to winning an event ranked by many as the ‘World’s fifth major’, but overall he was delighted with the way he had held his nerve and come back on this high-pressure Sunday
“I wasn’t nervous and felt great out there,” he said. “It was a little disappointing to bogey the last, but it’s been a good week.”
Lee Westwood had also had an opportunity to finish the week as World No 1, but the win he needed never looked likely long before he closed with a 77. that left him four over and well down the leaderboard in 61st place.
And Tiger Woods?
Sawgrass was equally unkind to the beleaguered legend in his own life time whose career has stumbled into mediocrity.
Woods shot a 73 to finish at 1-under in joint 40th place, just as he did at this year’s Masters.
“I’ve just got to keep working, keep working. I felt that I did it well in spurts again,” Woods said. “I just need to be a little bit more consistent.”
TOP 10 LEADERBOARD
USA unless stated, par 72):
275 Matt Kuchar 68 68 69 70
277 Zach Johnson 70 66 73 68, Martin Laird (Sco) 65 73 72 67, Ben Curtis 68 71 70 68, Rickie Fowler 72 69 66 70
279 Luke Donald (Eng) 72 69 72 66
280 Kevin Na 67 69 68 76, Bo Van Pelt 71 70 70 69, Jhonattan Vegas (Ven) 68 74 68 70
281 David Toms 69 74 73 65, Carl Pettersson (Swe) 71 72 69 69
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