VERONA, N.Y. – It had been so long since Matt Kuchar had won on the PGA Tour that a huge case of nerves was a given, especially when faced with a sudden-death playoff.
“I had a hard time falling asleep (Sunday night). My mind was racing,” Kuchar said Monday after defeating Vaughn Taylor on the sixth extra hole of the Turning Stone Resort Championship. “I was extremely nervous. It’s a feeling that you don’t feel very often. It’s exciting to feel it. It really makes you feel alive.”
Kuchar rolled in an 18-inch putt for par for the victory, just his second on tour and first in seven years.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” said Kuchar, who missed the cut at Turning Stone two years ago. “They’re so difficult to win. If you don’t win, there’s not a whole lot of rewards. The game beats you up.”
Kuchar knows from experience. A heralded amateur player — he was the 1997 U.S. Amateur champ after Tiger Woods’ three-year run — and a star in college at Georgia Tech, he won the 2002 Honda Classic in his first full season on tour.
That was it until Monday.
“There’s something to be said about guys that win,” Kuchar said as he hugged his young son Cameron and kissed his wife Sybi.
Kuchar improved to 2-0 in playoffs, and the top prize of $1.08 million boosted his earnings for the year past $2.3 million to 25th on the money list. His best previous finish in a tournament this year was a fifth-place tie at the Memorial in June.
Tied for the lead after 72 holes, neither player managed to win after two playoff holes on Sunday. They each birdied the first extra hole and parred the second before play was suspended because of darkness.
The playoff was staged over two par-5s, the 12th and 18th holes, and the par-4 13th. Kuchar missed a chance to win on the first hole Monday when his short putt lipped out at No. 13 as each player bogeyed the hole.
“There certainly were a lot of nerves on that opening hole,” Kuchar said. “I had a chance to win it with a 3- or 4-footer and missed.”
They matched each other again on the next two holes, and there was plenty of tension. At No. 18, Kuchar sank a 20-foot birdie putt and Taylor then calmly rolled in a 7-footer.
Taylor nearly won at No. 12, but his 21-foot putt for birdie stopped just shy of the hole and Kuchar saved par from a greenside bunker.
Then, as a stiff crosswind picked up and a light rain began to fall, Kuchar got a huge break when Taylor hit his tee shot into the water hazard along the right side of the fairway on No. 13 and had to take a penalty stroke.
“Just a bad swing,” Taylor said.
With a light mist blowing in his face, Kuchar hit his second shot into the rough on a slope to the right of the green and pitched inside 2 feet to set up an easy par.
“I was nervous on that putt from 18 inches,” Kuchar said. “It felt great to hear it hit the back of the hole.”
Taylor finished with double bogey on a hole he had parred during every round. “I felt like I had a chance to win a couple times,” said Taylor, who has two victories on tour, the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2004 (in a playoff) and again in 2005. “Maybe next week.”
It was the first six-hole playoff on the PGA Tour since Greg Norman beat Larry Mize at the 1986 Kemper Open, so it was no surprise the tension mounted with each swing.
“You’re just so nervous,” Kuchar said. “After I missed the short putt at 13 and hit my chip 20 feet by the hole (at 18), I’m like, ‘Aw, what have you have done here? You’ve just given this thing up.’”
Turning Stone is the first tournament of the Fall Series, which is comprised of five events. Players are vying to finish the year in the top 125 on the money list to retain full exemption for 2010, and the 33-year-old Taylor was right on the cusp at No. 131 with $519,282. He more than doubled his total with his runner-up check of $648,000, putting him over $1 million in earnings for the sixth straight time.
“I was trying to keep the (PGA) card this Fall Series, and I think I locked it up,” Taylor said. “So, you know, one goal accomplished. That was just a good battle.”