5 Things: Kuchar cruises while Tiger improves
Monday, June 3, 2013
Without much of a challenge Sunday, due in large part to his own consistency, Matt Kuchar glided to victory at the Memorial Tournament.
Here are 5 Things to Know about the day and week at Muirfield Village:
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1. KUCHAR'S CRUISE: With only one bogey on each nine, Matt Kuchar didn't really give anyone a chance to wipe away the two-shot lead with which he'd begun the day.
Add three birdies on each nine, and you've got a recipe for turning a lead into a trophy celebration – and at Memorial, a handshake from Jack Nicklaus.
"This is such an amazing feeling. This never gets old," Kuchar said. "To have Jack Nicklaus congratulate me is a real treat. This is as special as it gets."
Scoring conditions were slightly more favorable than a day earlier, at least judging by the increase in players who broke par. Yet the low round of the day was 67, and Kuchar only missed it by one.
There's perhaps no better indicator of a consistent game than greens in regulation, and Kuchar led that list this week by hitting 54 of them. Combine that with being second in strokes gained putting and you've got a strong combination.
The victory gives Kuchar the first multiple-win season of his career. He also won the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February. The only other multiple winner on Tour this year: Tiger Woods.
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2. TIGER'S TURNAROUND: Maybe turnaround is a strong word, for a couple of reasons. But Tiger Woods began pulling the pieces of his game back together late Sunday. Too late in fact, but better than not at all.
Woods played his last 13 holes in 4 under – a strong pace, to be sure – yet enough unsteadiness remained to make it clear he wasn't on his game.
Tiger's putting was the No. 1 culprit to sullying his scorecard, and that showed even during his solid closing stretch. He missed a clear birdie attempt on the par-5 7th, for instance. Much of the week, he was too strong – running even short putts well past the hole or lipping them out.
Could the improvement have been sparked by Woods' birdie at No. 15, which he had double-bogeyed twice before? Slaying those demons couldn't have hurt his mindset, naturally.
On the other hand, as Jim Furyk had alluded to a day earlier, a few tough breaks this week had cost Woods dearly – on misses that weren't too far off. Turn his three double bogeys and two triples into mere bogeys, for instance, and that alone gets him to 1 over for the week.
"It wasn't that bad today," he said. "It was just one hole that cost me, obviously, a few shots."
Woods was reliable finding the fairway all week, often employing a fairway wood. That bodes well for his ability to handle Merion at the U.S. Open in two weeks.
Truly a turnaround or not, the late rally spared him his worst Memorial finish, which is T-67 in 1997. Despite the 72 Sunday, only six golfers posted a 72-hole score worse than Woods'. A 79 will do that to a week.
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3. CHAPPELL'S CHALLENGES, STANLEY'S STAND: Kuchar's two closest opponents were easy for him to keep an eye on Sunday, as both pushes came from his playing partners.
Kyle Stanley tried first, birdieing four of five holes from Nos. 5-9. He pulled within a stroke until a two-shot swing at No. 11 dropped him three strokes back.
"Mentally, I'm pretty drained right now," Stanley said. "I would have shot a million this week if I didn't make putts. So I'm really happy about that."
Enter Chappell, who parred his first 12 holes before beginning to apply pressure. Chappell birdied three of five to narrow the lead to two shots as he and Kuchar stood on the 18th tee. Then he proceeded to hit his last approach shot of the day to about 4 feet – meaning a three-putt by Kuchar, who was more than 20 feet away, could force a playoff.
That challenge was squashed by Kuchar's birdie putt.
"He's world-class with that putter, and I figured it was over with," Chappell said.
Yet few had done more to force the issue. And Chappell's closing 68, while equaled by Kuchar for the win, was the only bogey-free round of the week at Muirfield Village.
"There at the end, it got scary," Kuchar said. "He made a great run at the end."
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4. STALLINGS' STREAK: One other pursuer of note was Scott Stallings, who birdied five straight on the front to make the turn in 31, then added another at No. 10.
But the wind left the two-time Tour winner's sails as he parred the next five; having started the day seven back of the lead, Stallings' 67 just wasn't enough.
Still, his T-4 matched the best he'd done this season – and was was the best of his three solid showings at Memorial (T-20 in 2011, T-25 last year).
Stallings came in with momentum, having finished T-4 last week as well in the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial – a finish he also matched at the Humana Challenge. But before Colonial, Stallings had missed four straight cuts and nine of 14 on the year.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Asked what he'll work the most on before he heads to Merion, Rory McIlroy said, "Everything. You want everything clicking on all cylinders, especially at the U.S. Open — because everything is tested at the U.S. Open." . . . Eighteen times, the winner of the Memorial (begun in 1976) has held the lead or a share of it after 54 holes, according to the Tour. . . . James Driscoll and Scott Stallings shot the best rounds of the day, each with a 67. . . . Luke Donald put his feelings on social media for all to see afterward, posting from his Twitter account, @LukeDonald: "20 birdies for the week, and I finish at -1!!! Hmmmmmm not quite sure if that's good or bad?" . . . Russell Henley's T-6 gives him his third top-10 finish this season. Matt Jones, on the other hand, also was T-6 as he earned his first top 10 since the 2012 Puerto Rico Open. . . . Kuchar's win is the 19th by an American in 23 Tour events this season. . . . Also on Twitter after the tournament, Graeme McDowell said he intends to play at the Memorial next year – after he had inquired earlier from his account, @Graeme_McDowell: "Never played Muirfield Village so can't understand the unusual scoring dispersion there. Everyday there's an 80 alongside guys going low?"
– The Associated Press contributed