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Thursday July 18th, 2019 1:36PM

Matt Kuchar starts Hawaii vacation with a victory

By The Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — Matt Kuchar didn't have the start he wanted Sunday in the Sony Open, not with three bogeys in five holes after making just one through three rounds.

The finish was better than he could have imagined.

Kuchar seized control late in the round with back-to-back birdie putts, the second one on No. 16 prompting a rare show of emotion with a fist pump. And when he tapped in for a birdie and a four-shot victory over Andrew Putnam, he looked back across the sky at a rainbow stretching across the sky.

"It was too cool to have a rainbow appear on the 18th hole," Kuchar said.

Better yet? Davis Love III, who still owns the best rainbow-moment from the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot, was there to greet him.

Kuchar overcame his sloppy start with flawless golf the rest of the way — he putted for birdie on the last 13 holes — and pulled away with a critical three-hole stretch at Waialae for a 4-under 66 to become the first multiple winner on the PGA Tour this season.

He won the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico two months ago, another finish that was tighter than it needed to be.

Not bad for a 40-year-old who ended last season failing to get to the Tour Championship for the first time since 2009, and ending his streak of playing on eight consecutive teams in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

"I was pretty frustrated," Kuchar said. "I think the frustrating thing was I felt like I was doing some good things and just not seeing results. That sometimes is hard to take, when you think you're on the right course and the right path and not seeing results. Nice to see it turn around."

This wasn't as easy as a four-shot victory might indicate.

Trailing for the first time on the weekend, Kuchar was on the verge of going two shots down at the turn when Putnam hit a 30-yard bunker shot to inches of the cup. Kuchar blasted out weakly, and holed the 10-foot birdie on the par-5 ninth to stay in range. He caught Putnam on the next hole with an aggressive pitch-and-run up the slope. After trading birdies, they were tied with five holes to play.

Putnam made his only mistake with a 9-iron into a deep bunker left of the 14th green, leading to bogey. Kuchar followed with 12-foot birdie putts on the next two holes, and he was on his way to his ninth career victory.

"I'm feeling a little let down right now," Putnam said after closing with a 68. "I'm sure when I think about it ... a lot of good things have happened. Just needed to make some better swings. Kuch was making birdies and played great coming down the stretch. I just couldn't keep up with him."

Putnam, who won the Barracuda Championship last summer and was runner-up to Dustin Johnson at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, moves into the top 50 in the world for the first time in his career at No. 45.

It was only the second time Kuchar has won twice in the same season. He won the Match Play Championship and the Memorial in 2013.

Now, he has the meat of the season in front of him.

"I want to see how great this year can be," Kuchar said.

He finished at 22-under 258, the third-lowest total in Waialae history behind the PGA Tour record of 253 by Justin Thomas in 2017 and Jimmy Walker's 72-hole score of 257 when he won in 2015.

Corey Conners of Canada, who got into the field through a Monday qualifier, had a 64-64 weekend and was among four players who tied for third, though none had a serious chance of challenging what amounted to a two-player race at the top.

Even so, the performance was big for Conner, who narrowly missed a full PGA Tour card last year. Along with his runner-up finish in the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall, he has nearly as many FedEx Cup points as last year when he finished at No. 130.

Marc Leishman (64), Hudson Swafford (64) and Chez Reavie (67) also finished in a tie for third.

Love, who first played the Sony Open in 1986, missed by one shot matching the lowest 72-hole score of his career. His 64-65 weekend gave him a tie for seventh, and he now heads off to Singapore with hopes of earning a spot in the British Open.

Kuchar had gone more than four years since his last PGA Tour victory before he won in Mexico. He's a winner again, and for a guy who loves Hawaii, he was thrilled to already have a spot reserved at Kapalua for the winners-only field 50 weeks from now.

"To win two out of three is crazy to comprehend," he said.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Golf, AP Online - Georgia News, AP Sports - PGA
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