It took a while for Matt Kuchar to disentangle himself from a suddenly-crowded Sony Open leaderboard on Sunday, but when he finally put the hammer down, he did so emphatically and cruised to his second victory of the still-very-young 2018-19 PGA Tour season.
Kuchar shot a 4-under 66 in the final round for a 22-under 258 overall and beat playing partner Andrew Putnam by four strokes after leading by two going into the final round. Kuchar wobbled to a 1-over 36 on the front nine and let a whole host of players back into the festivities before making three straight 3s on the back nine and two birdies in his first three holes.
Then came the close. Kuchar walked in a birdie putt on the par-4 15th, and with Putnam in trouble on the par-4 16th, Kuchar put his approach to 11 feet. He walked that birdie in, too, and all that remained was the trophy ceremony. Five 3s in your first seven holes on the back nine with the tournament in the balance is a nice way to close a two-week stay in Hawaii. He ended it with another birdie on the par-5 18th, his 24th of the week. He shot a 30 on the back nine.
“It was not at all what I was looking for,” Kuchar told Golf Channel of his start. “If I just keep plugging along I know good things are going to happen. Andrew was tough there. He was battling me … It was nice to have that pressure and be able to come through and make some birdies coming. I’ve never had a cushion like this coming down the last. Getting the birdie on 15 and 16, it made No. 18 awfully nice to play.”
After shooting 63-63 in the first two rounds, Kuchar only needed a 4-under 66 in Round 3 to get into position for the closing kick, another 64. It was a master class in lapping the field early and defending his turf late. It wasn’t easy because it never is on the PGA Tour, but it was simple and as low-stress as wins get.
For Kuchar, the victory will probably propel him all the way to the Tour Championship later this season and could even be the start of a career year. His best season to date probably came in 2013 when he won the Memorial and the WGC-Match Play Championship en route to $5.6 million in earnings.
Kuchar then won once in 2014 — the RBC Heritage — but came up empty until last fall when he won the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He joins Xander Schauffle in the two-win club for this season and now has nearly eight months to notch the first three-win season of his long, consistent and successful career. Grade: A+
Here are the rest of our grades for the 2019 Sony Open.
Marc Leishman (T3): It was a great two weeks in Hawaii for Leishman, too. About as good as it could have been without a win. He finished top five in both events, and following his win last fall at the CIMB Classic should be considered one of the players best positioned to break into the upper crust of golf as we head toward the heart of the season. Grade: A
Davis Love III (7th): Love III beat the following golfers he 1) is nearly 30 years older than and 2) vice captained at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris: Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. He also beat Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter, who are both only 15 years younger than Love but also played in the Ryder Cup. I love golf. Grade: A+
Justin Thomas (T16): Thomas had a great week from tee to green, which is encouraging from somebody I think is one of the three best players in the world right now. He was just a little off around the greens and with his putter. I can’t even pretend to be concerned about that, and he’s now finished in the top 20 in all four Sonys he’s played. One other weird stat: he leaves Hawaii with a third-place finish and a T16, but he finished a combined 17 strokes from winning those two events. Grade: B
Jordan Spieth (MC): Spieth bounced back with a 66 following his 73 in Round 1, but it wasn’t enough to make the cut (which he missed by one). He said … a lot of different things over three days of interviews, none of which were particularly encouraging.
“For not playing well at all and being on the bad end of the draw, to miss the cut by one is reassuring,” Spieth said. “I also love the way we fought back there at the end. That was fun. I felt like I was trying to win a golf tournament just to make the cut, which is not really something I want to get used to, but early in the season when I started the day 17 shots back, it was something where I could actually feel some pressure and make adjustments, too.”
I get where he’s coming from and know that he’s just trying to build confidence, but I might have to amend my “Spieth will win three times in 2019” take in a few weeks. Grade: F