Matt Kuchar said something after his scintillating win at the RBC Heritage at lovely Harbour Town that defied explanation.
"I believe in a golfing god," he said, by way of explaining his epic Sunday 64, and his highlight-reel hole out from a greenside bunker on the 18th, the margin of victory over a game Luke Donald.
Kuchar's grin, always ear-to-ear, seemed to glow with extra wattage.
What Kuchar meant was, if he kept grinding away and asking the golfing deity for success, he would be rewarded. Seems logical.
Except, this is a curious take from a guy who, while ranked top-10 in the world, and a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour, has never won a major and spent the previous two weeks getting the business end of the stick from those same golfing overlords.
A golfing god? Yeah, if he means Old Testament-style. You know, vengeful, wrathful, wings-off-flies type of guy.
Here's what I mean: Two weeks ago, Kuchar had the win wrapped up in Houston. He was in the fairway on the 18th hole with a one-shot lead and needed only to make par. Whatever forces oversee the golf universe then saw to it that Kuchar yanked his fairway wood left, into the water. He would make bogey. OK, fine. He'd head to a playoff. Except, he'd then lose in a playoff when Australia's Matt Jones made a wildly improbable chip-in to rip Kuchar's heart out – after Jones had rolled in a 40-foot double-breaker to get to the playoff.
Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth, and charged out of the gate with birdies at No. 2 and No. 3, got to 6-under and was tied for the lead.But that's OK, right? After all, the big prize is a green jacket, and Kuchar seemed as primed as anyone to make a back-nine run on a Masters Sunday missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. He started the day one shot back of co-leaders
Finally, it would be time for the forever-smiling Georgia Tech boy, now 35 and still showing those pearly whites, to make good on a major many believed would rightfully be his.
And then Kuchar came to the par-3 No. 4. He hit his tee shot decently, had about 35 feet to two-putt for par. Only, Kuchar four-putted. Yes, he did. He used his putter four times, and walked off the green with a double-bogey and all the momentum of a guy slipping on a banana peel.
He'd wind up shooting 74, including a back-nine 37 that made nary a ripple en route to a tie-5th, six shots back of the winner, Watson.
To recap: Kuchar had now blown a win at Houston in soaking wet fashion; then encored that with a blown Masters lead on Sunday. Even he wondered aloud how many chances he'd get to win a Masters at this rate.
Cut to Sunday in Harbour Town, the always-relaxing post-Masters tournament that combines the soothing sight of Spanish Moss and the calm waterways of South Carolina. Only, amid that beauty came more horror for "Kooch."
He barreled up the leader board with a brilliant Sunday of golf – birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10; 7-under through 10. He'd made up his four-shot deficit to Donald, taken a one-shot lead, and came to the par-3 17th hole, hungry for more.
His tee shot at 17 was pure art. It tracked the flagstick, landed gently some 20 feet shy of the cup, and slowly rolled to a stop four feet from glory. What a tee shot, what guts, and what an easy birdie to extend the lead, ice the win.
Wait. This is Matt Kuchar we're talking about. The guy who's had the fortnight from hell, from Houston to Augusta – and now to Harbour Town.
From four feet away … Kuchar three-putted.
Seriously. He three-whipped from four feet.
He made bogey, tumbled from sole possession of the lead, and walked to the 18th tee surely feeling hexed, cursed, damned, broken, bitter and bummed.
If you'd asked Kuchar right then, after that three-jack, after Houston, after Augusta, if he believed in a "golfing god," he'd probably have asked you: "You want me to remove your teeth with my 5-iron, or my driver?"
And yet! Kooch somehow believed.
And he somehow holed that bunker shot for birdie. And he somehow won by a shot. And he somehow was able, amid the gloom and doom and pain and suffering of his chosen profession, pick up his two boys in the locker room, kiss his wife and say to his family: "It's trophy-gettin' time!"
There is a lesson there for us all. When you feel forsaken by the royal and ancient game, when you feel betrayed by the rub of the green, when you feel wronged by the poltergeists who create the havoc that is your golf game – still believe.
Kooch did. He believed. He received his blessing. He taught us all that the "golfing god" will shine on you, at your time of need.
And if not? Well, you can always start drinking, heavily.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
65-70-67 – 14-under 202, Miguel Angel Jimenez, winner, Champions Tour Greater Gwinnett Championship, TPC Sugarloaf, Duluth, Ga.
He's from Spain, and when his ponytail is unleashed it takes the shape of an Afro, so for years golf media has called Miguel Angel Jimenez the "Spafro," or the Spanish Afro, if you need it spelled out.
This was the Spafro's Champions Tour debut, fresh off an awesome fourth place at the Masters at age 50. He tangled with the ageless Bernhard Langer on Sunday at Sugarloaf, except Langer does have an age, and it's 56, and he finished a remarkable tie-8th at the Masters. What a duel, and yet, the man with the Spafro proved better by two shots.
To say the Champions Tour needs players like Jimenez is to say Jimenez, on occasion, enjoys a cigar and a glass of rioja. Those are as important to him as oxygen. And he is as important to the Champions Tour as any rookie can be. Some have called him The Most Interesting Golfer in the World, given his worldly panache.
Just witness the charisma oozing out of his trophy photo. Enjoy, and you're welcome.
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"I'm just so happy right now, I can't even think straight." – Michelle Wie, on The Golf Channel, after a final-round 67 won her the LPGA Lotte Championship in Oahu.
Speaking of golfing gods rewarding the faithful …
Michelle Wie, winner!
It was just two weeks ago in this space we alternately praised the delightful young woman Wie has grown into; and lamented her chances of ever becoming the winner we all want to see after Lexi Thompson performed the golf equivalent of doing donuts in a courtesy car on Wie's front yard.
And yet, there was Wie, in her home state, in front of her home people, doing her hometown thing with gusto. She actually went and seized the darn thing. She shot 67 in the final round. She raced past third-round leader Angela Stanford. She made key putts in that "I-Lost-My-Contact-Lens" putting stance. She made six birdies, and her only bogey came on the final hole, when she could afford it in her two-shot win.
Wie, at 24, now has three wins to go along with her Stanford diploma. She won first in Mexico in 2009. She won next in Canada in 2010. And now, four years later, she's won in the U.S. Congratulations, Big Wiesy, on the NAFTA Slam.
The positive vibes were thick for a popular young lady. She spoke of feeling the love, saying "the amount of aloha I felt this week was unbelievable." She spoke of confidence gained, and immediately Judy Rankin on The Golf Channel looked ahead to a rivalry with Lexi, and the upcoming U.S. Women's Open in June at Pinehurst. Rankin also said, cogently, that maybe Wie would begin "expecting more out of herself."
In the meantime, the happy Wie got doused in beer on the 18th green by an even happier Christina Kim, and The Golf Channel's Terry Gannon informed us that "the party would continue into the night … a little ping pong … and a Bruno Mars concert."
You're 24, you're in Hawaii, you just won $255,000 and an LPGA concert, so why not a little ping pong and Bruno Mars? Wie was feeling amazing, just the way she is.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
Pablo Larrazabal has our sympathy this week.
Surely by now you've seen the footage of the tormented Spaniard diving into a pond in Malaysia to escape a swarm of hornets attacking him on the 14th hole of the Malaysian Open from Friday. It's straight-up Hitchcockian, the terror a human can feel when flying creatures attack.
What makes Larrazabal extra-worthy of our notice is that he not only emerged from that hornet attack and pond-dive to make birdie, he wound up shooting 68 after the onslaught.
It was dramatic enough that Larrazabal tweeted he got only about 30 minutes of sleep Friday night, and had to gut through Saturday. He shot 70, impressively. And heck, Larrazabal conquered his trauma enough to shoot 67 on Sunday to finish tie-8th in the event, the fourth-best finish of his career. Take that, hornets. What did you guys shoot on the weekend?
Anyway, the guy should never have had to go through that, and so let's go back out to the 14th hole in Malaysia on Friday, call a hornet-removal service, let the man play a hornet-free 14th hole and … give that man a mulligan!
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
The post-Masters recovery continues in New Orleans, where the Zurich Classic features a relatively low-wattage field. Justin Rose, at No. 11 in the world, is the highest-ranked player to enter. Frequently, New Orleans provides a chance for a first-time winner, as was the case with Billy Horschel last year.
So there's the recipe: Light on the hornet attacks, heavy on the gumbo and jazz.
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