MARANA, Arizona (Reuters) - Matt Kuchar felt as if he ruled the golfing world on Sunday after landing his first World Golf Championships (WGC) title with a 2&1 victory over Hunter Mahan in the Accenture Match Play Championship final.
The 34-year-old American emerged triumphant after a marathon week at Dove Mountain that began with a snow delay on Wednesday, winning all six of his matches in an elite event that brings together the game’s leading players.
Last year, Kuchar clinched his fourth PGA Tour title at the Players Championship, which is unofficially regarded as the “fifth” major, and he was thrilled on Sunday to add a WGC crown to his career resume.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” smiled Kuchar, who will climb to eighth in the world rankings which will be issued on Monday.
“Tough to compare with the matchplay difference, but you’ve got two fields that are the strongest fields in golf,” he said of the Players Championship versus the prestigious WGC tournaments.
“You’ve got the best players in the game of golf showing up, and to be a champion at an event where you’ve beaten the best in the world, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
When Kuchar won the 2012 Players Championship by two shots at the TPC Sawgrass to secure a $1.71 million pay cheque, it was the greatest achievement of his career.
”So many things were so cool to me about winning the Players,“ the soft-spoken American recalled. ”I look at the Players as having the strongest field in the game of golf on one of the most difficult courses.
”It also finished on Mother’s Day. My mom had never been to a tournament that I had won, so to have all those things kind of come together was just a really special week.
“But to be here, to win my first World Golf Championship in this format, to win six matches, to win two matches on Saturday and two matches on Sunday, it is just an amazing feeling.”
Kuchar had to withstand a pressure-laden back nine on a bitterly cold and windy Sunday afternoon at Dove Mountain where his compatriot Mahan fought back from a four-down deficit at the turn.
”He played a fantastic back side, just really kind of put the pressure back on me,“ Kuchar said of Mahan’s stirring run of four birdies in five holes from the 11th. ”You could feel Hunter gaining the momentum.
“I had that 4-up lead on the front, and then every hole was just so difficult. With the conditions the way they were today that there was just a bogey around any corner. Hunter made a couple of birdies there to put some pressure on me.”
Asked how he had been able to handle the escalating pressure over the closing holes, Kuchar replied: ”I think I was hiding in my ski cap and ski mitts and did a good job of covering up any sort of nervousness.
”I did a great job today of being excited to hit the next shot. I knew that if I was to have a lapse of any sort, mentally or physically ... the match could swing, momentum could swing pretty quickly.
“I had a great time, but I was also very focused on what I was doing. In matchplay, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. Every hole is so key that it keeps you a little bit more in the present. That probably helped me a bit today.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Ian Ransom