Kuchar starts Hawaii va­ca­tion with a vic­tory

Porterville Recorder - - SPORTS - By DOUG FER­GU­SON

HONOLULU — Matt Kuchar over­came three early bo­geys that cost him the lead with flaw­less golf and two key birdies on the back nine to close with a 4-un­der 66 and win the Sony Open for his sec­ond PGA Tour ti­tle this sea­son.

It wasn't as easy as his four-shot vic­tory over An­drew Put­nam might in­di­cate.

Hav­ing made only one bo­gey through 54 holes to build a two-shot lead, Kuchar had three bo­geys in his open­ing five holes Sun­day and fell one shot be­hind Put­nam, and he had to make a 10-foot birdie putt at the turn to avoid fall­ing two shots be­hind.

Kuchar caught him with an ag­gres­sive pitch up the slope on the par-4 10th hole. They re­mained tied with five holes to play when Put­nam made bo­gey from a deep bunker left of the 14th green, and Kuchar made a pair of 12-foot birdie putts on the next two holes to seize con­trol.

Just like that, his lead was three shots, mak­ing for a pleas­ant walk up the par-5 18th.

Kuchar be­came the first mul­ti­ple win­ner on the PGA Tour this sea­son, hav­ing ended a drought of more than four years when he cap­tured the Mayakoba Clas­sic in Mex­ico last Novem­ber. It was only the sec­ond time in his ca­reer Kuchar has won twice in the same sea­son. He won the Match Play Cham­pi­onship and the Me­mo­rial in 2013. Now, he has the meat of the sea­son in front of him.

"I want to see how great this year can be," Kuchar said.

He fin­ished at 22-un­der 258, the third-low­est to­tal in Wa­ialae his­tory be­hind the PGA Tour record of 253 by Justin Thomas in 2017 and Jimmy Walker's 72-hole score of 257 when he won in 2015.

Put­nam, who won his first PGA Tour ti­tle last sum­mer at the Bar­racuda Cham­pi­onship, didn't blink un­til that ap­proach into the bunker that led to his lone bo­gey, and he couldn't make enough putts to stay close to Kuchar the rest of the way.

He closed with a 68 and moved into the top 50 for the first time in his ca­reer.

Corey Con­ners of Canada, who got into the field through a Mon­day qual­i­fier, had a 64-64 week­end and was among four play­ers who tied for third, though none had a se­ri­ous chance of chal­leng­ing what amounted to a two-player race at the top.

Even so, the per­for­mance was big for Con­ner, who nar­rowly missed a full PGA Tour card last year. Along with his run­ner-up fin­ish in the San­der­son Farms Cham­pi­onship last fall, he has nearly as many Fedex Cup points as last year when he fin­ished at No. 130.

Marc Leish­man (64), Hud­son Swaf­ford (64) and Chez Reavie (67) also fin­ished in a tie for third.

Davis Love III, who first played the Sony Open in 1986, missed by one shot match­ing the low­est 72-hole score of his ca­reer. His 64-65 week­end gave him a tie for sev­enth, and he now heads off to Sin­ga­pore with hopes of earn­ing a spot in the Bri­tish Open.

But this day ul­ti­mately be­longed to Kuchar, who won for the ninth time in his ca­reer.

He ended the 2018 sea­son ear­lier than he wanted, fail­ing to reach the Tour Cham­pi­onship for the first time since 2009 and end­ing his streak of play­ing on eight straight teams in the Ry­der Cup or Pres­i­dents Cup.

He won again in Mex­ico in a Sun­day much tighter than he would have pre­ferred, and had a few ner­vous mo­ments at the start at Wa­ialae. He went long of the sec­ond green, lead­ing to bo­gey. The other two were sloppy — a three-putt across the back of the fourth green, and a wedge into No. 5 that he was beg­ging to get down as soon as it left his club. It hopped into the back bunker, and he missed an 8-foot par putt to lose the lead.

From there, how­ever, Kuchar had a birdie chance on the fi­nal 13 holes he made.

Kuchar and Put­nam were in a bunker short of the green on the par5 ninth. Put­nam went first and it rolled out to 2 inches for birdie. Kuchar came out weakly, but made the 10-foot birdie putt. They traded birdies on the 12th and 13th, and Kuchar took over from there.

"It was so un­char­ac­ter­is­tic of me," Kuchar said, re­fer­ring to his three­p­utt and bad wedge on No. 5. "But I kept plug­ging along, and I knew good things were go­ing to hap­pen . ... To win two out of three is crazy to com­pre­hend."


Matt Kuchar hits from the first tee dur­ing the fi­nal round of the Sony Open PGA Tour golf event, Sun­day, Jan. 13, 2019, at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club in Honolulu.

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