Planet Golf — 14 May 2012 by Bob Sherwin
For Matt Kuchar, change is good

Take heart, Tiger Woods, you can change your swing and actually get better. Just look at what it has done for Matt Kuchar.

At this point in Woods’ illustrious career, whenever he enters a tournament, it’s a soap opera. The recurring theme – ad nauseam – is whether this will be the week Tiger becomes Tiger we all knew. Will he blitz the field as he once did? Will he intimidate everyone who dares challenge him? But just about every week over the past two years he has fizzled.

The focus is a radical swing change that Woods has undergone under the direction of Sean Foley. It has produced relatively little over the past couple years – one victory. As TV golf analyst Johnny Miller said Sunday during The Players Championship, Woods “has become an ordinary player.”

For a guy who has won 72 times on the PGA Tour – including 14 ‘majors’ – one victory is bogey golf. It’s pretty ordinary. Heck, Jason Dufner has that many.

Kuchar once drew vague comparisons to Tiger. He won the 1997 U.S. Amateur championship – after Woods had won three straight from 1994-96 – and came into the PGA Tour as a budding star and a promise about to be fulfilled. He joined the Tour in 2001, won his first tournament in 2002 and seemed to be on his way.

But by 2003, things were already unraveling. He missed 15 cuts that year, including seven in a row to end the season. Two years later, he missed 12 of 21 cuts with just one top 10 finish all season. By 2006, he was back on the Nationwide Tour as he battled to recover his Tour card and his once bright future.

By 2009, he had enough. He decided to turn his fortunes around in dramatic fashion. Like Tiger, Kuchar underwent a swing change. That changed everything. In 2010, he missed just two cuts in 27 events, had 11 top-10 finishes – winning the Barclays – made the Ryder Cup team and was the Tour’s top money-winner.

Last season, he missed just two cuts again and had nine top-10 finishes. This season he has made 10 cuts and Sunday snaked through the field to win The Players Championship by two strokes at TPC Sawgrass. He earned $1.7 million, a five-year Tour exemption, rose to 5th in the Official World Golf Rankings and 6th in the FedEx Cup standings.

Change is good.

“I never wanted to be the guy that won once a year and missed 10 cuts a year,” Kuchar told the media afterward. “I just didn’t think — there are a lot of people that play good golf for a week and then miss a couple cuts. I wanted to be the guy — and back when I was thinking about this, Tiger Woods was either winning or finishing second or third every week, and I wanted to figure out how do I get to be like that, how do I play good golf?

“Lately – Steve Stricker was that guy. It seemed like Steve Stricker was a guy that I could be more like than I could be like Tiger Woods. I can’t hit the shots Tiger Woods can. Steve and I play a similar game, just a consistent game, and that was a guy that I said, I’d like to play like him. I’d like to show up, be playing good, have a chance to win tournaments, and it’s gone that way.”

Kuchar, 33, held off four players who finished two strokes back at 277, Martin Laird, Zach Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Ben Curtis. Luke Donald finished four behind at 279.

Third-round leader, waggler Kevin Na, faded spectacularly. He shot a 76 to finish at 280, tied for seventh, five strokes behind.

Woods continued to struggle with his new swing. He finished with a final-round 1-over 73 and in a tie for 40th.

Notes:

    • With the victory, Kuchar also has a three year exemption to the Masters Tournament, U.S. Open, and British Open.
    • Kuchar now has 45 career top-10 finishes, 25 since the start of the 2010 season. That ties Luke Donald for most on the Tour during that stretch.
    • Kuchar is the first American to win The Players since Phil Mickelson in 2007 and the sixth since 2000.
    • Fowler’s runnerup finish was the fifth of his career.
    • Donald equaled the low score on the back nine at TPC Sawgrass with a 6-under 30 en route to a final round 66.
    • With his solo sixth finish, Donald remains No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking behind Rory McIlroy. Donald needed a solo fourth finish or better.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 46th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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