USGA CHAMPIONS
Champs Update: Kuchar Claims Second Victory of Season January 14, 2019 | Liberty Corner, N.J. By David Shefter, USGA

Matt Kuchar was dominant down the stretch on Sunday at Waialae C.C. to win his second PGA Tour event of 2018-19. (USGA/Michael Cohen)

Matt Kuchar owns nine PGA Tour victories, including The Players Championship in 2012, and a bronze medal in golf’s return to the Olympics three years ago. But missing from the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion’s résumé is a major championship title.

It’s not like he hasn’t come close – in 2017 he posted three top 10s that included a runner-up showing in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale – yet the 40-year-old Florida native still is seeking that elusive title.

If the results from the first two months of the 2018-19 wraparound PGA Tour season can portend major-championship success, perhaps this will be Kuchar’s year. The affable Georgia Tech graduate registered victory No. 2 of the season on Sunday in the Sony Open of Hawaii with a dominant final-nine performance at Waialae Country Club. Kuchar posted a second-nine, 5-under-par 30 that included three birdies on his last four holes to beat Andrew Putnam by four strokes.

Coming off a season in which he failed to qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2009, ending his personal streak of not playing on a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team, Kuchar seems to have channeled that frustration with his performances the past two months. In November, he won the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, and after relinquishing all of his two-stroke advantage over Putnam early in Sunday’s final round, Kuchar regrouped on the second nine. Actually, the rally started with a birdie on the par-5 ninth and continued with birdies on Nos. 10 and 12. When Putnam bogeyed the par-4 14th hole, Kuchar had the lead for good.

Kuchar’s 22-under total of 258 was the third-lowest in Waialae history behind the 253 set by Justin Thomas in 2017 and Jimmy Walker’s 257 in 2015. It’s also the second time Kuchar has posted multiple victories in a single season – he captured the Memorial and WGC-Match Play Championship six years ago.

Now he’s put himself in position to be in the major-championship conversation. While not currently exempt for the U.S. Open, he moved to No. 22 in the Official World Golf Ranking and appears to be in great position to stay among the top 60 by the late-May deadline to earn a free pass into the field at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. A victory in The Players Championship or two preceding majors – Masters and PGA Championship – would also get Kuchar a spot in the field.

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

Two other USGA champions posted top-10 finishes at Waialae. Chez Reavie (2001 U.S. Amateur Public Links) tied for third and Bryson DeChambeau (2015 U.S. Amateur) shared 10th.

Kuchar's victory continues a hot start to the 2018-19 PGA Tour season for USGA champions. 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Kevin Tway won the inaugural event of the season, the Safeway Open, in October, and was followed two weeks later by two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who was victorious in the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in Korea. DeChambeau then won the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in early November, and Kuchar won Mayakoba the following week.

Koepka, Jutanugarn and Langer Honored

Reigning U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open champions Brooks Koepka and Ariya Jutanugarn, respectively, and 2010 U.S. Senior Open champion Bernhard Langer were recently honored as the male, female and senior players of the year by the Golf Writers Association of America (GWAA).

The three players will receive their awards at the 47th ISPS Handa GWAA Annual Awards Dinner presented by the USGA and The PGA of America on April 10 in Augusta, Ga.

Koepka, a first-time recipient of this honor, became the first player in 29 years to successfully defend his U.S. Open title with a one-stroke victory over Tommy Fleetwood at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Two months later at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., the 28-year-old Floridian joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as players to have won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year.

Jutanugarn defeated Hyo Joo Kim in a dramatic four-hole playoff at Shoal Creek outside of Birmingham, Ala., to win the U.S. Women’s Open Championship. It was one of three victories for the 23-year-old from Thailand. This was the second time she had garnered Female Player of the Year honors from the GWAA.

Langer, 61, of Germany, claimed his third consecutive Senior Player of the Year honor and fifth overall. He claimed a pair of PGA Tour Champions victories in 2018, raising his career total to 38.   

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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