Kuchar's blast from bunker secures Heritage victory

sfastenau@islandpacket.comApril 20, 2014 

Matt Kuchar’s smile returned Sunday, not that it was ever gone for long.

A stretch of three solid weeks of golf before the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing yielded no victories. Though Kuchar was playing well, his Sundays left room for questions.

Kuchar insisted this week there were no issues with his final-round performance. He said tough conditions and solid performances kept him from victory the previous three weeks, when Kuchar shared the lead at each tournament.

And so Sunday on Harbour Town Golf Links, after a three-putt from 4 feet on the par-3 17th, when everyone thought the doubt sneaked in under Kuchar’s Bridgestone cap, there was calm.

“No pep talk needed,” said Kuchar’s caddie, Lance Bennett. “It was nothing but positive all day.”

Kuchar completed a 7-under-par 64 by holing out for birdie from the front bunker on No. 18. He finished at 11-under 273, clipping Harbour Town’s perpetual bridesmaid, Luke Donald, by a shot.

After Kuchar’s bunker shot dropped, he snapped the cap from his head and feigned throwing it down, slinging an autism awareness pin into the sand. On the green, Kuchar pumped his fist to encourage the spectators in the skybox crowing “Kuuuuch,” and gave a CBS camera a thumbs up.

Kuchar contended at the Masters before a four-putt derailed his chances the final day. He lost in a playoff the previous week in Houston after Matt Jones chipped in to win. He shared the lead at the Texas Open before finishing tied for fourth.

“You’re there every week, you get comfortable,” said Kuchar, who earned $1.044 million Sunday. “I knew my job for the day was to try to take advantage of opportunities. It doesn’t always work out — everybody’s going to try to make birdies. It was nice today that things got going a little early.”

Sunday was different than the previous three. He started the final round four shots back and climbed. He grabbed the lead with a front-nine 30 and birdied the 10th to lead by two.

Then his round went stagnant until the 17th, when his tee shot rolled within 5 feet. The birdie would have given him a two-shot lead with the final hole to play and Donald finishing behind him.

But his first putt slid by on the left side. Then the next one stayed out.

Any frustration melted in the face of the wind blowing in from Calibogue Sound on the 18th tee.

“It demands your full attention,” Kuchar said.

Kuchar hit what he thought was his best drive of the week. On the approach, his 5-iron bounced at the top of the bunker and fell in.

The caddie Bennett told Kuchar there were worse spots.

“Well, this is easy,” CBS commentator Nick Faldo remarked as Kuchar prepared to play from the trap.

After the birdie, Kuchar signed his scorecard and spoke with his sons, Carson and Cameron, who clutched Easter eggs as their dad prepared for a possible playoff.

But with Donald needing a birdie on the difficult 18th, he fanned his approach short and right of the green and couldn’t summon Kuchar’s magic.

In his past six starts at Harbour Town, Donald has finished runner-up three times and third twice. No tartan jackets.

“Obviously, 69 with a couple-shot lead is usually good enough,” said Donald, who started the final round 8 under. “But Matt played a hell of a round.”

Kuchar’s fast start included birdies on his first two holes and another at the difficult par-4 eighth.

He will take two weeks off before the Players Championship after four consecutive weeks of golf, including the top-five finish in Augusta.

He won for the seventh time on the PGA Tour, his most recent before Sunday being the 2013 Memorial.

He celebrated with his family on Easter Sunday. His sons raced circles around the bunker behind the 18th green while Kuchar conducted interviews and took photos with the Sir William Innes trophy.

The ceremony concluded a tournament threatened throughout by weather but without a delayed finish. A misty rain early Sunday morning stepped aside to allow for a perfect afternoon, capped by roars for Kuchar’s final stroke.

“That was one of the greatest things to happen to me,” Kuchar told the crowd during his champion’s speech.

Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.

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