Matt Kuchar’s golf career is continuing its upward spiral.
U.S. Amateur? Won that in 1997.
PGA Tour victories? Got five of those.
Players Championship? Won the PGA Tour’s flagship event last May.
World Golf Championship event? Got his first one in late February at the Match Play Championship.
Major championship? That’s next on the to-do list.
“I’ve always thought you were supposed to take the appropriate steps to get to the next level,” Kuchar said. “I’ve always thought that like in school, you kind of graduate elementary school, get to middle school, you graduate middle school and get to high school and then college, and those are the steps you take. You don’t jump straight into college and you don’t jump straight into Advance Placement courses. You kind of take these little steps to get there.”
Golf, he said, follows a similar learning curve.
“I felt like you kind of start playing well, you start top 10’ing, you start having a lot of chances, and then you win a tournament,” he said. “Then you start doing the same in bigger tournaments. You start having better and better results and you take those steps and feel more and more comfortable in the big tournaments, majors included, and I feel like I’ve made the right progressions.”
Indeed, his major breakthrough could have happened in the 2012 Masters Tournament. After making eagle on the par-5 15th hole in the final round, he was tied for the lead with Louis Oosthuizen.
It didn’t last. As Kuchar was bogeying No. 16, Oosthuizen was making birdie on No. 15. So did Bubba Watson, who ended up tied with Oosthuizen, whom he then beat in a playoff.
Kuchar parred Nos. 17 and 18 to finish tied for third place, two shots out of the playoff.
With rounds of 71-70-70-69, he and Watson were the only players in the field to shoot under par each day.
Kuchar almost made Masters history by becoming the first player to birdie the par-4 18th hole each round, but he missed “about a 15- to 18-footer” on Sunday.
He calls the second shot to No. 15, from 268 yards to 2 feet from the hole, one of the greatest of his career.
“It’s got to be up there,” he said. “That one certainly stands out. In that situation, to pull into a tie for the lead, to hit a 3-wood to that hard of a green and for it to nearly go in for double eagle was pretty awesome.
“I had just a perfect number,” he said. “It was going to be just a full 3‑wood. It held up against the wind, and it came off just as I would have wanted it to.”
Kuchar was 2-under par on the second nine and was two shots off the lead when he got to No. 15.
“I knew I had to make something happen,” he said. “I know the guys behind me were the real guys contending. I was just trying to make ground up. I didn’t feel I was quite in the mix. With the eagle on 15, I knew there was ground still to make up. Even though I was tied I knew the guys still had 15 to play and I knew they were going to make birdies. It was only a momentary tie. I knew I needed to keep on making birdies and make ground up.
“It was one of those positions where you can also say it was an easier position to be in. You’re not protecting, you’re only trying to move forward, you’re only trying to catch the leader,” Kuchar said. “There was never that pressure of feeling like, ‘this tournament is mine.’ I never had that feeling. I was still trying to catch the guys, the leaders.”
Unfortunately for Kuchar, the traditional Sunday pin on the par-3 16th doesn’t suit his game. It’s in a hollow on the left side of the green. That pin is hard for Kuchar to get close to because his natural shot is a fade (left-to-right direction) and he can’t afford to flirt with the water to the left of the green in order to get close to that pin.
“A right pin is more accessible to me than the left pin,” he said. “I’m aiming at the middle of the green, hoping to maybe hit a straight ball that maybe catches the slope.”
His tee shot on Sunday “faded off to the right and just missed the green right. It was just barely off. You don’t have to be off by much for things to go wrong around there.”
From there, he failed to get up-and-down and made bogey.
The experience of being in contention on the second nine was “awesome,” he recalled. “I don’t know that there’s much else like it. It was truly just a great afternoon. It was a lot of fun and great to have a chance.”