COMMENTARY | Not much gets to Matt Kuchar.
The defending Players Champion is in position after 36 holes to become the first player to successfully defend his crown at TPC Sawgrass. The Players is the only regularly occurring PGA Tour event in the last 30 years to not have a back-to-back champion, but the easy-going Kuchar could be the one to break the mold.
Finishing the opening two rounds in 7-under par, Kuchar is well within shouting distance of the leaders heading into the weekend. His even-keel attitude and ability to deflect pressure with a quick smile lends Kuchar to be the perfect player to break through the barrier.
"I don't think that this is necessarily a curse that nobody's defended the title here," Kuchar said in his pretournament press conference. "It's just kind of one of those stats you pull out, and I'd like to be the first guy that is able to repeat. "
Kuchar has never been one to let the expectations of many creep into his psyche. Earlier this year at the Masters, Kuchar embraced one of the most recognized curses on the PGA Tour: no winner of the Wednesday Par-3 Contest at the Masters has gone on to win the tournament proper. Kuchar went after it.
"I know this year I look back to the Masters and the Par‑3 Tournament, and I gave it everything I had to win the Par‑3," Kuchar said.
Kuchar would go on to finish in a tie for second place in the Par-3 and settled for a T8 in the tournament.
The Georgia Tech grad has already debunked one recent trend among defeding Players champions as he has already qualified for the weekend. None of the last three winners have played the weekend.
However, making the cut and winning the tournament are two very different things. Kuchar will have to continue to rise up a stacked leaderboard that has the likes of Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood already ahead of him with only the morning wave finished on Friday.
Other big names are lurking as well. Rory McIlroy, Steve Stricker, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Zach Johnson are in the hunt heading into moving day.
The weekend at the Players provides some of the most intense pressure the Tour members will face all season. The gauntlet down the stretch at Sawgrass has sunk many a dream, but yet again, Kuchar has proven time and again that he has no time for such problems.
Always steady, Kuchar keeps himself alive throughout rounds. He boasts one of the best scoring averages on Tour (9th overall) and is 15th in final round scoring. His 25th ranking in the All-Around category is perhaps the most definite indicator of his never-too-high, never-too-low mentality.
The All-Around stat is computed by adding scoring average, driving distance, driving accuracy percentage, greens in regulation, putting average (per hole), eagles (holes per), birdie average (per round) and sand save percentage.
No one said defending would be easy and with the deepest field in the game assembled at Ponte Vedra Beach, Kuchar will have his hands full, but if the streak is to be broken, the Players could do worse than having Matt Kuchar be its first back-to-back champion.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple platforms including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com and The Clermont (OH) Sun. Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
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