For the past month, Matt Kuchar had turned coming up short into a cottage industry. As much as he tried to dodge victory once again, he just couldn’t do it. Instead, Kuchar captured the RBC Heritage, ending a string of bloody Sundays for the affable Georgian.
Kuchar three-putted for bogey on No. 17 and then found the bunker with his approach on 18, only to sink that sand shot for birdie. That allowed him to escape with a one-stroke victory over Luke Donald, himself snake-bit over the years at Harbour Town.
Ranked sixth in the world coming into the week, Kuchar was on an impressive stretch of finishes: tied for fourth at the Valero Texas Open, then second at the Shell Houston Open followed by tied for fifth last week at the Masters. A nice run except Kuchar had led all three of those tournaments during the final round before fading in spectacular fashion.
He carded three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the back nine in San Antonio and rinsed his approach on the 72nd hole in Houston to fall into a playoff. After two consecutive birdies gave him a share of the lead through three holes of the final round at the Masters, Kuchar promptly four-jacked the fourth green, never to be heard from again.
To be fair, for most of Sunday at the Heritage, Kuchar looked a far cry from those meltdowns, birdieing seven of the first 10 holes to erase Donald’s four-shot overnight lead. Kuchar began the day tied for seventh, but there was little indication beforehand he could overcome such a large gap against such a quality golfer. Kuchar hadn’t broken par in a final round since early January.
But he fired a sterling 7-under 64 to Donald’s respectable 69. The Englishman, who now has five top-3s at the Heritage in the past six years, was done in by two hook blunders off the tee, driving out of bounds on No. 6 for a double, then finding the water on No. 10 for a bogey.
For the former world No. 1, this was perhaps his best chance on Tour to end a two-year winless stretch. Harbour Town, featuring narrow fairways and small greens, levels the field for the diminutive Donald against today’s big bombers. Donald began the week 29th in the official World Golf Rankings.
Three golfers began the weekend tied for the lead: K.J. Choi, Jim Furyk and Martin. The South Carolinian wound up tied for third, equaling the best showing of his brief career. Martin was a Tour rookie in 2011, but played the last two years on the Web.com Tour. Now back, he’s had an all-or-nothing season, making just five of 14 cuts, but carding three top-25s, good for 65th in the FedEx Cup standings. He appears poised to maintain his card.
Huh burst on the scene in 2012, winning Rookie of the Year honors. He faded in 2013, and keeps fading this season. He finished tied with Martin for third at the Heritage, by far his best showing of the season, and his best since the Wydham last August. Until we see him do it again, we’ll view this as an aberration. He’s done little to suggest otherwise.
Stuard was unheralded until stringing together three successive top-10s early in the season (and then maybe still unheralded). Since January, though, he hadn’t done anything of note until tying for fifth at Harbour Town. At 17th in the point standings, he’s got a legitimate shot at reaching the Tour Championship. With four top-10s, only 12 golfers have more, and most of those have five.
Furyk tied for seventh at the Heritage, his fourth successive top-20, including T14 last week at the Masters. So Furyk obviously still has a strong game to help almost any fantasy team; he just doesn’t close the deal anymore. He’s winless since capturing three titles in 2010.
Not even the most famous golfer in his family (Lexi is), Thompson is only 116th in the point standings. But with his two best finishes of the season coming in his last two starts – T24 in Houston before a T12 at Harbour Town, he might be worth a pickup in deeper leagues. Thompson even had the lead briefly on Saturday.
At almost 44, Choi’s best days are behind him, although he can have the occasional good week, such as his T2 at Torrey Pines in January. Choi shared the Heritage lead heading into Saturday, but a 74-73 left him tied for 31st, which seems just about right for someone who’s 55th in the FedEx Cup standings.
The fact that Marino played is a victory in itself, as he hadn't done so since November. That he made it through all four rounds – not getting cut and not reinjuring his left knee – is even better. Marino shot 72-72-72-68 to tie for 31st, his first made cut in three events this season. He earned $34,469, leaving him six tourneys on his major medical extension to collect the $379,127 needed to maintain his playing status. He’s in the field for the upcoming Zurich Open, and he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on, or even picking up.
Hadley is the Tour’s top rookie, having won the Puerto Rico Open and standing 29th in the points race. While he’s shown a propensity to get into position to challenge, of late he’s also shown a propensity to fade. After three rounds in the 60s at Bay Hill, Hadley plummeted with a closing 79. Then he shot a final-round 80 in San Antonio. And after getting onto the first page of the leaderboard through two rounds of the Heritage, Hadley shot a 73-73 – not terrible, of course, but not nearly good enough to keep up with the front-runners, resulting in a T38 showing.
Horschel heads into the defense of his breakthrough title last year in New Orleans in a slump. After a stellar 2013, he has only one top-10 in 14 starts this season, and that came in a 30-man field – the Tournament of Champions back in January. Horschel finished T68 at the Heritage and is 61st in the point standings, surely a disappointment to his owners. Let’s see if fond memories of last year jump-start his game this week.
Until heading to Harbour Town, Faldo hadn’t teed it up in a Tour event outside the Open Championship since the 2006 Heritage. Since then, he has become CBS’ lead golf analyst, and a Sir, having been Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2009. Faldo said his goal was simply to make the cut, but after a 77-76, he didn’t come close. Of course, he has no fantasy value. But at least he was fun to watch.
Westwood won the European Tour’s Maybank Malaysian Open for his first title anywhere in two years. Now 40, and entering the week 36th in the world, Westwood still has plenty game – he finished seventh last week in the Masters. He just doesn’t have a major title, and may never. But interestingly, he began working with a new coach, Mike Walker, a few weeks ago, and reunited with his former caddie, Billy Foster, late last year. So who knows?
Miguel Angel Jimenez
The dashing Spaniard, coming off a fourth-place finish at Augusta, went wire-to-wire to capture the Greater Gwinnett Championship in his Champions Tour debut. He beat Bernhard Langer by two strokes to become the 18th golfer to win his first Champions event, and second in a row after Jeff Maggert.