Experience won the Sony Open on Sunday.
Experience is the voice that whispers to us when things aren’t going well.
Experience was right there in Matt Kuchar’s ear on the front nine Sunday afternoon at Waialae.
Things didn’t start well at all for Kuchar, who slept on a two-shot lead overnight. In fact, things started quite poorly for the smiling 40-year-old who stumbled out of the starting blocks and before you could say “Another Mai-Tai please” Kuch had bogeyed three of his first five holes and saw playing partner and main challenger Andrew Putnam wrestle the lead from him.
There was no panic in Kuch, experience was right there, whispering in his ear.
“It was not the start I wanted by any means,” was how he put it afterward. ” but I knew I was playing good golf. I was pretty disappointed to give up a few shots, particularly the three-putt on four, and with the wedge in my hands making bogey on 5. Thought, Man, that was just not at all the start I was looking for.”
It wasn’t the start that anyone would be looking for, especially a guy who had converted only three of his seven 54-hole leads into victories.
Perhaps the turning point of the day came at the par five ninth hole. Both Kuchar and Putnam could easily reach the par five in two. Both went left into a greenside bunker and faced the dread long bunker shot. Putnam really turned up the heat when he nearly holed his, left himself a three-inch tap-in. Kuch didn’t do himself any favors — left his outside 10 feet for the tying birdie. He didn’t want to fall two shots behind Putnam.
Experience once again showed up and Kuchar calmly made it — dead center, thanks, let’s get to the back nine.
At that point it was clear that this would come down to a two-man battle, no one else made a big enough move to get in the hunt.
At the 10th, experience helped Kuch stick a low-track wedge from 66-yards to four feet. Sweet shot, one that comes when you have 18 seasons on he tour. Birdie there got him square with Putnam.
At the 12th, Kuch hit a wedge inside 10 feet, made it, got to 19-under and had the lead back.
Putnam punched back with a 20-footer for birdie at 13 to tie it again but gave it back with a bogey at the 14th. Lack of experience.
Deep down inside Kuchar not doubt knew the magic number on this day would be 20 — as in 20-under par. At the 15th, from 132 yards out his approach stopped just outside 12-feet. He canned it and gave a pretty hefty fist pump when you consider how cool, calm and collected things are for Kuchar.
Only problem is that once again, experience told him him that two shots on the PGA Tour isn’t a huge margin with three to play. Experience then closed the deal. At the par four 16th, he hit a pretty nice shot to 11-feet from 149 out. “I felt like if I get this putt to go in, the tournament is mine,” Kuch later recounted as to his thinking.
He made it to get to 21-under and the tournament was his.
He closed with birdie to put the icing on it and experience won by four shots.
There were no birdies down the stretch for Putnam, but he’ll have more chances when that voice of experience begins to speak to him with more volume.
But on this day, it spoke loud and clear for Kuchar.
“I knew I was playing good golf; I knew if I stayed the course, continued just plotting along and not letting that get the best of me, that some good stuff was going to happen. I sStarted playing really good golf. I didn’t see any putts fall until the ninth, and I think that was that’s just a crucial turning point for me. Making that putt on nine, stay within one of Andrew, and then played some great golf from then.”
Five back nine birdies, 63-63-66-66, yes that would fit the definition of “great golf.”
As Kuchar smiled his way down 18, a rainbow was up there in the sky for him.
“It was too cool to have a rainbow appear on the 18th hole. I had never had a tournament with a three-shot lead going into 18 where you kind of feel like just it was my tournament and could really enjoy the 18th hole. So to see a rainbow out there was a special kind of magical moment.”
What was more magical is that Kuch has totally erased the disappointments of last season where he didn’t win, wasn’t considered for the Ryder Cup team and didn’t make it to East Lake.
“I’m tickled, thrilled to have won two events this early in the year,” Kuchar beamed. “To have won two out of three starts on the PGA Tour is mind boggling to me. Yeah, to set up the year, absolutely sets up the year to be in great position for the FedExCup. There is a lot of year left and a lot of great things that are out there to be done.”
He should be thrilled. After all, he waited four years for that Mayakoba win in November and then it took just 63 days to get another.
Chalk this one up to experience.