By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE, Nov 23 (Reuters) - Having been on the receiving end of a belligerent Royal Melbourne, Matt Kuchar was happy to get one back over the famed sandbelt course with a bogey-free 68 on Saturday to move to outright third after the World Cup of Golf's third round.
The American world number seven has put in hard yards Down Under, and arrived a week early to warm up at the Australian Masters on the same course where he very nearly snatched the title from defending champion Adam Scott in the final round.
Having charged into a two-stroke lead, Kuchar crumbled in the last few holes at the Masters on Sunday to gift the local hero the win. The American pledged to learn his lessons for the $8 million World Cup.
After opening with a shaky even-par round of 71, Kuchar has made only a single bogey since, staying firm as rivals crumbled on the course's slick greens to give himself and the United States a shot at a second consecutive World Cup.
Another local favourite stands in the way of Kuchar in leader Jason Day, who carded a sparkling five-under 66 to be a stroke ahead of Danish overnight leader Thomas Bjorn.
Kuchar, who won the last title in 2011 with compatriot Gary Woodland when it was solely a team event, is two strokes further adrift.
"Really pleased with the score I shot today and feel like I was in control, as sharp as I would have liked to have been," the rangy 35-year-old told reporters.
"The conditions are fantastic, fun to play, but mainly it's the strategy.
"So many holes you teeter on the verge of - can I be aggressive or is this a hole to just take the front middle of the green and try to have an uphill putt ... It's perfect."
From being solely a team event in 2011, the tournament now devotes $7 million of the prizemoney to an individual tournament for the first time, creating an interesting dynamic for the 26 two-man teams in the 60-man field.
Kuchar will be rooting for compatriot Kevin Streelman to help win team honours, but not much more than that.
Streelman lies only two strokes behind Kuchar after falling down the leaderboard with a 74. The Americans' combined scores have them a stroke behind Day and world number two Scott in the team event.
Having basically avoided each other, Kuchar said he hoped to catch up with his team mate Streelman for the first time in the evening in readiness for the final round.
"I hope to be a better team mate," Kuchar said.
"So far we haven't done a whole lot of strategising, even a whole lot of discussion.
"We have played kind of opposite sides the first two days so I really haven't seen him at the golf course at all. And then my family is here, his caddy is here, so I've been kind of dining with my wife and kids, doing room service and not going out as you would in a proper team competition.
"I know he's got a shot at winning this championship as an individual so I think he'll be gung-ho." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)