Matt Kuchar hasn’t minded being under the radar a bit this week at the Masters.
But when his name popped up at the top of the leaderboard following a sensational birdie from the bunker at No. 4 and a short birdie putt at No. 7, it was hard for the Georgia Tech graduate to stay in the background.
Kuchar didn’t finish with the lead, after bogeys at Nos. 13 and 16, but with 70 at Augusta National he’s still in the hunt at 5-under-par 211, in fifth place, four shots behind.
“It’s nice for me to be under the radar,” Kuchar said after a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18. “There were so many names on the leaderboard I didn’t take enough time to really glance up and see just where I stood.”
After beginning the day 2-under and tied for 11th (only three shots off the lead), Kuchar soared to the top when he blasted out of the bunker at the par-3 fourth hole for birdie, made a kick-in at the par-4 seventh, then drained a 20-footer at No. 9 to turn at 3-under 33.
He nearly holed his bunker shot at No. 12. He struggled on the par-5 holes on the second nine.
Kuchar laid up at both holes, but marginal third shots cost him. At No. 13, he came inches from nudging his pitch onto the back shelf, where the hole was located, and the ball trickled back down to leave him a 40-foot putt. He then needed three strokes, missing his 5-foot par attempt when the ball nicked the hole and kicked out.
Kuchar’s wedge shot at No. 15 went over the back of the bank, and he managed a par.
“I played them well, played them smart,” he said. “I felt like I hit, for the most part, all good shots and ended up being 1-over. That’s easy to happen out here.”
Kuchar said the loose atmosphere back at his rented house is contributing to his good feelings on the golf course. His mornings before rounds and evenings after have been taken up with basketball games with his two sons or gin rummy games with his 86-year-old grandfather, Maurice “Big Kuch” Kuchar.
“He’s got a couple points up on me now,” Kuchar said. “We’ve had a lot of fun, to be able to go home to the family … a nice family week.”
Kuchar’s mother, Margaret, estimated that about a dozen family members are staying at the house.
“It’s what keeps him relaxed, playing with the boys and being with everyone,” she said. “He’s so family-oriented that it’s his escape.”
Kuchar regretted his missed opportunities at the par-5 holes. But he realizes he’s still in the tournament.
“I’d certainly rather be much more under par than I am right now,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve got a chance. It’s an awfully exciting position, to have a chance.”