COMMENTARY | Hey, remember Matt Kuchar?
No, not the wonder boy with the sheepish grin who made waves as an amateur at the 1998 Masters and U.S. Open.
I'm talking about the family man with the sheepish grin whose quiet consistency makes it easy to forget he's one of the PGA Tour's best players. Think of Jim Furyk with a sunny disposition.
Kuchar's 31 top 10 finishes since the start of 2010 are 10 better than Furyk, 11 better than Phil Mickelson and 18 better than Tiger Woods.
There was Kuchar again Thursday (Feb. 14) morning, shooting at pins at storied Riviera Country Club en route to a seven-under-par 64 and the first-round lead at the Northern Trust Open. In case you missed it, Kuchar has already posted two top 10s this year in three starts. He's on track for a third and maybe more this week in Los Angeles.
"The start was really key," Kuchar told SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio said after the round. "I birdied one, two and three and all my birdie putts were inside of three feet so it was a nice way to get going. The game is solid."
High finishes are nice for the checkbook, and Kuchar no doubt lives comfortably in the Sea Island, Georgia, community that includes fellow Tour players Davis Love III, Zach Johnson, and Jonathan Byrd.
But high finishes that include just four wins spread out over a 12-year professional career allow Kuchar to stay just below the paparazzi's radar.
Kuchar's consistency has made him a stalwart of the last three U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. His putting stroke makes the 1997 U.S. Amateur champion dangerous in match play, which helps explain his 2-0 record in Tour playoffs and quarterfinal showing at last year's WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championship.
At this point, the 34-year-old would appear to have it made. After detouring to the Web.com tour due to a stretch of poor play from 2003-2005, he's improved nearly every year since regaining his Tour card in 2007. Kuchar is definitely in the prime of his career.
His 2012 Players Championship victory signaled the lanky Floridian might just be ready to step up to the elite level of a Mickelson or Rory McIlroy. Last year saw Kuchar turn in career-best showings at the Masters (T3) and Open Championship (T9). He's a consistent performer at the U.S. Open and has also played well at tough tracks like Firestone and Doral.
Kuchar's best-ever round at Riviera comes on the heels of a three-week break spent vacationing in Hawaii and then working with swing coach Chris O'Connell.
"I'm feeling fresh and ready and excited about the game of golf," Kuchar said afterward. "I drove it really well. Out here you can attack some pins from the fairway, from the rough it's a lot harder."
If his long game can keep up with a perennially solid putter, Kuchar could have his major breakthrough this year at Augusta, where he introduced himself to the golfing public, or perhaps Merion, the bandbox outside Philly that will host the 2013 U.S. Open.
If he does, we won't have any trouble remembering Kuchar as one of the best golfers on this side of the pond. No matter what kind of grin he flashes while raising the trophy.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the Greensboro News & Record, Burlington (N.C.) Times-News and New York Post. A past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association, he most recently covered the Northern Trust Open for FoxSports.com.
Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.