Planet Golf — 24 February 2013 by GW staff and news services
WGC: Kuchar beats Mahan, 2&1

MARANA, Az. — Matt Kuchar finally put Hunter Mahan in a hole and then answered every challenge Sunday to win the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Mahan had gone 169 holes over 11 matches without trailing in this wild tournament until Kuchar won the fourth hole of their championship match with a par, and Mahan never caught up. Kuchar took advantage of a series of miscues to build a 4-up lead at the turn, and then held off a noble challenge by the defending champion.

There was never a dull moment on the back nine. Only two holes were halved, and those were with birdies.

But for all the great shots, the match ended when Mahan went from a tough lie in the bunker to a bush in the desert, and it took him four shots to reach the 17th green. Kuchar wound up winning, 2 and 1, when Mahan removed the stocking cap he used to fight the cold desert air and conceded Kuchar a short birdie putt.

It was the first World Golf Championship title for Kuchar, and it follows a year in which he won THE PLAYERS Championship. Kuchar became the second player in the last three years to win the Match Play Championship without ever playing the 18th hole. He mover to No. 2 in the PGA Tour’s FedExCup standings with his win.

“It seems like each hole there’s so much momentum riding and so much pressure on every hole,” Kuchar said. “To come out on top after six matches of playing the top 64 guys in the world, it’s an incredible feeling.”

Mahan was trying to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners, and he gave it a good shot despite the big deficit halfway through the match.

“Just had a bad stretch against Matt on the front nine there that put me just a little bit too far behind,” Mahan said.

In a strong, cold wind — the wind chill index reached a low of 37 degrees on the final day — Mahan made a long two-putt par to win the 10th, and played a tough chip from the mound of a bunker to about 6 feet for a birdie on the next hole, cutting the lead in half.

Mahan followed with a tee shot into about 10 feet on the par-3 12th, the momentum squarely on his side. Kuchar, however, followed with an 8-iron to just inside 15 feet and made the birdie putt.

“The shot was certainly good, but the putt was really crucial, and when that went in, I felt like I was still in control of the match,” Kuchar said. “Had that putt not gone in, it would have been only a 1-up lead, and I think the match was in anybody’s hands at that point.”

On the par-5 13th, Mahan hit a poor approach from the fairway and Kuchar got up-and-down to restore his lead to 3 up.

Kuchar came up with one more clutch shot. With a 2-up lead on the 304-yard 15th hole, the breeze at his back, Kuchar chipped about 10 feet past the hole with Mahan only 6 feet away for birdie. Kuchar holed the putt and escaped with a halve.

Mahan won the 16th with a two-putt par when Kuchar’s tee shot bounced off the corporate tents behind the green, and it look as though the match would go down the 18th for the first time in nine matches for Kuchar. Both hit into the fairway bunker, but Mahan’s ball was slightly sunk in the sand, and his approach never came close to reaching the green. Instead, rolled through a patch of desert until it lodged in a bush.

Kuchar’s record in this event improved to 15-3, the highest winning percentage of anyone who has played at least 10 matches. He has reached the quarterfinals each of the last three years, and this time went all the way.

He played 96 holes and only trailed after four holes all week.

Kuchar polished off Jason Day of Australia in the semifinals Saturday morning, 4 and 3.

Mahan hit a series of remarkable wedge shots in beating Ian Poulter, 4 and 3, in his semifinal. He twice hit difficult chips inside 5 feet to win holes, and then seized control with a chip-in from about 70 feet on the 12th hole to take command.

Day defeated Poulter in the consolation match, 1 up.

It was the first all-American final in five years at the Match Play Championship, and Kuchar’s win gave the Americans a clean sweep of the PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing for the second straight year.

He moves to No. 8 in the world and picked up $1.5 million, and now has earned just over $3.2 million from his last two wins.

Kuchar and Woods are the only former U.S. Amateur champions to win the Match Play Championship. Kuchar won the Amateur in 1997, the year after Woods turned pro. He recalls being in the semifinals with three Walker Cup players and feeling out of his league.

That wasn’t the case this year, even against Mahan. Collectively, they have a 27-4 record at this event the last three years

Here are recaps from semifinals Sunday and the quarterfinal matches on Saturday at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship:

Mahan def. Poulter, 4 and 3

Hunter Mahan is one match away from a successful title defense after beating the 2010 champion, Ian Poulter, in the semifinals.

Mahan has now won his last 11 matches — and he hasn’t trailed since the sixth hole of his 2012 opener, a span of 166 holes. He is looking to become the first player to successfully defend his title since Tiger Woods in 2004 and ’04.

In Poulter on Sunday, Mahan was facing one of the game’s virtuoso match players but he never let the Englishman get the edge in the blustery conditions.

Mahan won the second hole with a 4-footer for birdie but the match went back to even after the American made bogey at No. 4. Poulter returned the favor at the next hole, though, and Mahan never trailed again.

Mahan got up and down for birdie at the par-5 eighth to make the turn 2 up. He chipped in for birdie at the 12th to go 3 up and won the 14th with a par to pad his lead. When the two halved the driveable 15th with birdies, the match was done.

“I’ll tell you what, it’s easy to get up for Ian because he’s so good in match play,” Mahan said. “He’s such a competitor. He’s never going to be out of a hole. He’s always going to find a way. Today I played really well, got up and down from a lot of tough spots, and my short game definitely carried me today.”

Mahan said the winds that were gusting to 30 mph made the match extremely challenging. “On a golf course like this where kind of accuracy is premium, and the wind the way it’s blowing, it’s difficult out there,” he said.

Poulter, who has a 22-10 record at the Accenture Match Play Championship, said he was “personally disappointed.

“I think I would like the outcome to have been slightly different, but Hunter played very solid today,” Poulter said. “He chipped it unbelievably well when he had to, and I think there was a key turn around 11 or 12. I had a putt there to win the hole on 11 from about eight feet and I missed it, and then he hit the wrong club on 12, gone flying through the back of the green. I put it in position on the back of the green, he chipped in.

“Huge turnaround there. I could have changed that match around at that point there. And from that point there was no letup. … I think it was tricky this afternoon with the wind, and it was very tricky to go at some of those pins. It made it difficult.”

SCORECARD STATS: Mahan made five birdies and two bogeys. Poulter made three bogeys and two birdies, both of which came in his last three hole.

HOLES WON: Mahan won five holes. Poulter won one.

NEXT OPPONENT: Mahan plays Matt Kuchar, who beat Jason Day 4 and 3 in the other semifinal.

Kuchar def. Day, 4 and 3

Matt Kuchar has finally played his way into the title tilt at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship for the first time.
Kuchar has come close each of the last two years. He lost to eventual champ Luke Donald in the 2010 semifinals and went on to finish third when he beat Bubba Watson in the consolations.
A year ago, Kuchar was eliminated in the quarterfinals 6 and 5 by the eventual champ Hunter Mahan, the man he’ll face in the championship match.
“This has been a lot of golf, and it’s fun to continue to survive,” Kuchar said. “… So excited to make the championship match, won five matches now, but it’s a thrill. To have a chance to win the title here at the Accenture Match Play is pretty exciting.”
Kuchar traied briefly when he made a bogey at the second hole. But he squared the match with a par at No. 4 and took a 1-up advantage when he rolled in a 13-footer for birdie at No. 6.
Another birdie at the eighth, this time on a 23-inch putt after Kuchar just missed the green on the par 5, put him 2 up. He and Day traded wins on the next two holes, then Kuchar went 3 up when he parred the 13th.
Kuchar closed out the match with a 5-footer for birdie at No. 15. Day’s drive traveled 291 yards on the par 4 that  was playing 312 but he chipped short and couldn’t convert from 22 feet to extend the match.
Day, who beat two former major champions on Saturday, was disappointed but still saw the glass half-full.
“I think the whole week in itself is a positive week for myself,” Day said. “I played good golf against great golfers, and I’ve got one more match to go against probably one of the most feared match play players.” 

SCORECARD STATS: Kuchar made three birdies and three bogeys. Day made four bogeys and one double bogey.

HOLES WON: Kuchar won six holes. Day won three holes.

NEXT OPPONENT: Kuchar plays Mahan

Saturday’s quarterfinals

Rd. 4: Mahan def. Simpson, 1 up

Hunter Mahan played the 18th hole on Saturday afternoon for the first time in four matches this week as he beat the reigning U.S. Open champion.

In fact, the last time Mahan played the 18th hole was in his opening match last year as he embarked on a successful march to the championship. The sixth hole of that match against Zach Johnson last year also was the last time Mahan trailed — which is an impressive streak of 141 holes.

Mahan and Simpson both played well. They halved the first four holes before Mahan drew first blood with a 17-footer for birdie at the fifth hole.

Simpson birdied the par-5 eighth to square the match but Mahan’s 26-footer at No. 10 put him 1 up again. Simpson then got up-and-down from the greenside bunker at the par-5 13th for another birdie to square the match.

Mahan got the final edge, though, when he drove the 15th green and two-putted for birdie from 56 feet. The next three holes were halved with pars and Mahan’s record improved to 14-4.

“Difficult match against Webb,” Mahan said. “Great competitor, great player. I knew it was going to be a tough one, and it was. It was really a seesaw battle. I don’t think either one of us really gained too much momentum, it was so back and forth.

“I made a couple nice up and downs and made some nice putts today. In the afternoon that’s kind of what led me to victory, obviously making the par on 16 gave me the 1 up lead and I was able to finish it down the stretch. But tight match and really could have gone either way.”

SCORECARD STATS: Mahan made five birdies and didn’t drop a shot to par. Simpson made five birdies and one bogey.

HOLES WON: Mahan won three holes. Simpson won two holes.

NEXT OPPONENT: Mahan plays Ian Poulter, who beat Steve Stricker 3 and 2 in the quarterfinals.

Day def. McDowell, 1 up

Jason Day earned his way into the semifinals in a big way by taking down two major champions on Saturday.

After dispatching Bubba Watson with relative ease in the morning, Day had to dig deep in the afternoon when neither he nor Graeme McDowell had their best stuff.

The 2010 U.S. Open champion won the first hole with a conceded birdie and made another one at the third to go 2 up. When McDowell bogeyed the fourth and seventh holes, though, the match was square again.

Day took the lead for the first time with a birdie at the par-5 11th hole. McDowell then squared the match with a birdie at the 14th but Day answered with a 3-footer at the next to get back to 1 up.

Another see-saw spurt saw McDowell and Day trade wins with pars at Nos. 16 and 17. So Day took a 1-up lead to the 18th hole where he two-putted from 42 feet for the win and McDowell missed a 16-footer for birdie to extend the match.

“It was very stressful out there today,” Day said. “I feel like my mind is going every which way right now. Just to play the way I did on the back nine was very, very special. The whole game today felt really, really nice, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

“You know, myself and G Mac, we really didn’t play our best, but you’ve just got to do enough. That’s because you’re just playing against a guy that’s across the tee from you. I’ve got Matt Kuchar tomorrow, and I know he’s very slow and steady, hits a lot of fairways and greens and can roll the rock when he can, and I’m looking forward to that.”

SCORECARD STATS: Day made four birdies and two bogeys. McDowell made five birdies and four bogeys.

HOLES WON: Day won five holes. McDowell won four holes.

NEXT OPPONENT: Day plays Matt Kuchar, who beat Robert Garrigus 3 and 2 in the quarterfinals.

Poulter def. Stricker, 3 and 2

This battle of former Accenture Match Play Championship winners didn’t disappoint.

Ian Poulter (pictured above) put a damper on Steve Stricker’s 46th birthday, though, as he pulled away in the middle of the round for his 24th vicory in 33 matches in this global event.

Poulter actually made his first — and only bogey — in his last three matches at No. 1 as Stricker was in the process of making birdie there to go 1 up. The Englishman got back on track quickly, though, as he rolled in birdie putts of 5 and 40 feet on the next two holes to take the lead the bulldog would not relinquish.

While Poulter was sizing up that 40-footer, Stricker actually was looking at his own 7-footer for birdie at the third hole to possibly win it himself.

“Steve is always a tough person to beat, and he was going to play some good golf today,” Poulter said. “That’s exactly what he did. I managed to keep my nose in front, I guess, with a typical match play swing on the par-3 third hole. It looks like Steve is going to be going up right there, and I hole, he misses. And from then on I sort of took over and got myself in front.”

Poulter holed a chip at the sixth hole for a 2-up lead and then drained a 25-footer for eagle at the par-5 eighth to go one better. Stricker’s 4-footer for birdie at the 10th hole narrowed the gap to 2 down but Poulter responded with two consecutive birdies to take a 4-up lead.

A conceded birdie at the 14th hole gave Stricker a glimmer of hope at 3 down but the next two holes were halved with a birdie and a par and Poulter was on to the next round.

SCORECARD STATS: Poulter made six birdies, one eagle and one bogey. Stricker made four birdies and one bogey.

HOLES WON: Poulter won six holes. Stricker won three holes.

NEXT OPPONENT: Poulter plays Hunter Mahan.

Kuchar def. Garrigus, 3 and 2

Robert Garrigus came to Dove Mountain to play in his first Accenture Match Play Championship brimming with confidence.

Matt Kuchar, though, had the experience and his steady game won out over the grip-it-and-rip-it-style of Garrigus.

Kuchar never trailed in this quarterfinal match, winning the second hole with a 4-foot birdie after Garrigus missed from 6 feet. He went 2-up when Garrigus made bogey at the third hole but Kuchar did the same at the fourth.

Kuchar’s birdies at the sixth and ninth holes gave him a 3-up advantage at the turn and he went one better at No. 10 when Garrigus made bogey. But Garrigus won the 12th hole with a par when Kuchar couldn’t get up and down from the greenside bunker and the 13th with a 25-inch birdie putt to claw his way back into the match.

Kuchar then made a 4-footer for birdie at the 15th hole to get back to 3 up, and the win was assured when the two men halved the 16th with pars.

Kuchar has lost to the eventual champ last two years — bowing to Luke Donald in the 2011 semifinals and Hunter Mahan in the quarters last year. He has a 13-3 record at this event.

“He let me have a couple of holes early,” Kuchar said. “That was key. He battled back but I’ve been playing steady golf.”

SCORECARD STATS: Matt Kuchar made five birdies and three bogeys. Garrigus made three birdies, three bogeys and one double bogey.

HOLES WON: Kuchar won six holes. Garrigus won three holes

NEXT OPPONENT: Kuchar plays Jason Day.



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