5 Things: Kuchar smiles; Stefani stays course; more

Matt Kuchar during Saturday's third round of the PGA Tour's 2014 Shell Houston Open.
Matt Kuchar during Saturday's third round of the PGA Tour's 2014 Shell Houston Open. ( Associated Press )

Saturday, April 5, 2014

HUMBLE, Texas – On a damp, dreary day, after getting in a car wreck on his way home from a root canal, Matt Kuchar probably would smile and crease those rosy cheeks. He's the kind of guy who never needs anyone to urge him to say cheese when a camera lens is staring at him.

His golf performance often gives him good reason to flash his pearly whites, for he has been the foremost top-10 machine on the PGA Tour in recent years. His high-level consistency was at it again here Saturday in the third round of the Shell Houston Open and had him in yet another happy mood.

Kuchar shot 68 at the Golf Club of Houston on a high-scoring day when the wind blew up to 15 mph and the greens became firmer and flags were tucked. Hence, he reached 15-under-par 201 and will take a four-shot lead over Sergio Garcia (73) and Cameron Tringale (69) into a final round that meteorologists say probably will be struck by inclement weather.

With that as a backdrop, here are 5 Things you need to know about the Shell Houston Open at this point.

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1. KUCHAR IS HOT: The affable veteran has played his way into the final group for the second Sunday in a row, only this time with a nice cushion. His hope is to play better than he did last Sunday, when he was tied for the lead with nine holes left, shot 39 on the back and 75 for the day and slipped into a tie for fourth.

This week he has gone 66-67-68, and a 69 to complete the series would figure to give him his seventh Tour victory. In this season of surprises, he also would be just the third player in the world top 15 to win (joining Jason Day and Zach Johnson).

Kuchar is in prime position for two primary reasons: He has hit five more greens in regulation (48) than the next best in that category, and he ranks second in total distance of putts made. That is a winning formula. He hit 17 greens Saturday, almost as good as his table-running 18 Thursday.

"Right now I'm excited about the form I'm on," he said, smiling as usual. "I'm excited to get right back in the saddle and have a chance. It feels awfully good where my game is stacking up now."

Although he has finished in the top 10 at the last two Masters, don't expect him to look ahead Sunday to the year's first major championship next week.

"I'm focused for tomorrow," he said.

And I don't believe he was smiling when he said that.

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2. STEFANI PLAYING FOR A JOB: As a 31-year-old PGA Tour rookie last year, Shawn Stefani suffered a herniated disc in his neck late in the season. It wasn't the kind of herniated disc that stops time and the presses, as Tiger Woods' did the other day. But it was important to Stefani because it contributed to him not finishing in the top 125 and thus losing his card.

But the Houston resident was given a medical extension of two starts in 2014 with a chance to keep his card for the remainder of the season. It all comes down to Sunday in his hometown. He needs to finish alone in 35th or better to succeed. If he fails, he'll play in the 125-150 category, wouldn't get into tournaments and would play on the Web.com Tour.

Stefani was some story Saturday. He was tied for third before making consecutive double bogeys and a bogey on Nos. 5-7. But he rallied in a remarkable way–holing a 63-foot putt for an eagle 3 on No. 8 and sinking a 33-footer for an eagle on 13.

Hence, he enters Sunday in seventh place and good shape.

"You can't teach heart," said the Texan, playing on a sponsor exemption. "I've got a ton of it."

It actually didn't seem like he was bragging.

Stefani said he wasn't distraught after going 5 over on those three holes. Rather, he said he walked off the seventh green telling himself to keep doing the same things, to stay patient.

His rebound, he said, "made me realize how important patience and resilience are. I was nervous, but I just tried to put in on damage control."

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3. THE BUDDY SYSTEM: Cameron Tringale and Rickie Fowler have been roommates the past few years, living in Fowler's house together. They hit it off after playing in the 2009 Walker Cup together. But now they're bonded through another common residence – the high perch of a leader board.

Tringale is tied for second, Fowler tied for fifth. While Fowler has won on Tour, Tringale's best finish is a tie for third at the 2013 Valspar Championship.

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4. VACATION ON HOLD? Fowler, of course, has played in the Masters before and will go back next week. Tringale has not played a Masters and, as it stands now, has a vacation planned for next week.

So he says his Sunday plan is to "have fun and see where that ends up." Should he win, he'd get an Augusta berth and happily call his travel agent and postpone that holiday.

"That would be great," he said. "Who doesn't want to play there?"

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5. SHORT SHOTS: Jon Curran is making the most of a sponsor exemption. He's tied for eighth, nine shots back, after a third-round 69 in his fifth Tour start. A roommate of Keegan Bradley for about five years, Curran won on the Web.com Tour in Brazil three weeks ago. . . . Second-round leader Sergio Garcia followed his 67-65 start with a 73 that was sabotaged by a couple of loose swings on Nos. 11 (drive) and 15 (second shot). "Other than that it wasn't too bad," the Spaniard said. "At least I kept myself within reach." Garcia has one-putted half of his 54 holes. . . . Sean O'Hair withdrew during the third round because of a stomach virus. . . . Forty-four players who started the Houston Open are in next week's Masters. . . . There's a possibility bad weather could push the Houston Open into Monday. Kuchar said that would be fine by him, because he doesn't plan on getting to Augusta until Tuesday afternoon anyway. Phil Mickelson (T-8 after a 72) wouldn't have a problem playing here Monday, either, saying his preparation work is done. But Garcia didn't like the idea of a delay, saying that it "wouldn't be very good" go to the Masters and "squeezing everything together" and not getting much rest. . . . The forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of showers at 7 a.m. that rises to 90 percent from 9-11 a.m., then dwindling to 50 percent by 3 p.m.; thus, tee times are in threesomes off both nines and set to begin at 7:30 a.m., weather permitting.