HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Matt Kuchar saw his well-struck 5-iron on the 18th hole at the RBC Heritage come up way short of the target and settle in a front bunker.
“Well,” he thought as he walked toward the shot, “there are a lot worse places to be.”
For Kuchar, there was no better place — and no better shot in the tournament.
He followed with a stunning chip-in on Harbour Town Golf Link’s closing, lighthouse hole, to overcome a four-shot deficit for a one-stroke victory and end nearly a month of Sundays where he came close to a title only to lose at the end.
Kuchar shot a 64 to finish at 11-under 273, one stroke ahead of Luke Donald, who had his third second place and fifth top-three finish here in the past six years.
Donald’s latest chance ended Kuchar’s winning chip. He hit it solid, felt it was a good line and watched it rattle home. “I heard the crowd go crazy,” Kuchar said. “Then I went crazy.”
Kuchar punched the air to celebrate, grabbed his cap and swung it around to the cheers of the crowd. It was Kuchar’s seventh career PGA Tour victory. He earned $1.044 million and his first trophy since the Memorial last June.
It also followed a stretch of golf were Kuchar was in contention nearly every week.
He was two shots behind winner Steven Bowditch at the Texas Open on March 30, then lost a playoff at the Houston Open a week later on Matt Jones’ 42-yard chip in.
Kuchar was in the mix at Augusta National a week ago, having a share of the lead on Sunday before a four-putt double bogey at the fourth hole dropped him from contention.
Kuchar, at No. 6 in the world the highest-ranked golfer here, could’ve taken a break like other top competitors, but hoped the momentum would carry into Harbour Town.
“It’s awfully sweet to have another chance,” Kuchar said.
Kuchar made up the four shots on Donald with seven birdies in his first 10 holes. Then he nearly gave away another tournament when he three-putted from less than eight feet away at the par-3 17th, a bogey that dropped him into a tie for the top spot — and set up the dramatic 72nd hole.
“I was in a little bit of shock,” Kuchar said. “But I think I did a good job of shaking things off.”
Donald had two holes to catch Kuchar after the chip but couldn’t do it. He missed a 28-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole, then saw his own try at a chip-in birdie slide past the cup.
“Finishing second isn’t what I was hoping for,” he said. “Disappointed, obviously, not to have won. Usually a solid 69 on a windy day with a two-shot lead is enough to get it done on Sundays. It’s tough to win out here and hats off to Matt for a superb round.”
Donald was at 10-under 274 after his 69.
Ben Martin, who turned pro in 2010, shot 67 to finish tied for third at 9 under with John Huh, who shot 68.
Sunday finally brought the sunshine the tournament had lacked all week. Players got the bonus of easy, softened greens from three days of moisture.
The birdies were flying from the start, and Kuchar took full advantage. He birdied the first and second holes, then added a third from 20 feet or so at No. 4.
“When I made that putt, I knew it was going to be a really good day,” he said.
That Donald was in the chase again here was no surprise. The steady Englishman, once No. 1 in the world, says Harbour Town’s tight fairways and small greens are a perfect layout for a player such as him who isn’t the longest hitter on tour.
Donald said a gust of wind in his swing led to him driving the ball way left out of bounds on the sixth hole for a double bogey. He climbed back into the hunt with birdies on the seventh and ninth, but hooked his drive into the water left on No. 10 for a bogey.
“It was just a poor swing,” he said. “I flipped it.”
Donald kept charging, though, and drew within a stroke of Kuchar’s lead with consecutive birdies on the 11th and 12th holes. He could get no closer, finishing his round with six pars.
Martin, who had missed seven cuts in his past eight tournaments, reached 10 under with back-to-back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes.
Martin’s run ended when he couldn’t squeeze through some pine trees after driving into the rough at the par-5 15th. His ball struck a tree and scooted into more trouble across the fairway. He took bogey to drop two shots off the lead.