JOHN MCHENRY: Dogged Matt Kuchar can’t pull rabbit out of the hat

For someone who obviously knows how to get himself into contention in the biggest events, Kuchar has to hope his time will come soon, writes John McHenry.

As Matt Kuchar walked to the first hole yesterday his game plan was simple. If he was to stand any chance of winning, he needed to take Jordan Spieth out of his comfort zone. He had to make the last round a dogfight!

To do that, he needed to start fast and hopefully take advantage of any early round jitters the two-time major champion, and overwhelming favourite, Spieth may have had.

Statistically, yesterday’s final round shouldn’t have been a contest. With a three-shot advantage, Spieth held all of the aces. Having dominated the first three rounds, he also had the familiarity of winning a major championship from this position before. All he had to do was to perform.

Easier said than done.

In Kuchar, Spieth would have known that he had an opponent that had forged a very successful career on consistency. Motivated by the opportunity to win his first major championship at the age of 38, he wasn’t going to “give away” this opportunity to his more vaunted opponent lightly.

A former US Amateur Champion in 1997, I first met Matt Kuchar when he came to compete in the Murphy’s Irish Open in Ballybunion in 2000. Although I had retired from the professional game the previous year and he was just starting his, I had been asked by a friend to meet up with him and his dad as he was keen to “pick my brain” by way of getting a greater understanding of links golf as well as life on the European Tour.

Affable and good spirited, his ambition for his game was clear from the outset and although he has had a hugely successful career, it was interesting to read recently that he is disappointed he hasn’t won more tournaments in his career and presumably that also meant major championships.

The challenge that Kuchar presented yesterday to Spieth was in many ways far more difficult than the somewhat predictable power-plays of the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. On form, all would have fancied their chances against Spieth as they would have known, that given the right circumstances they could overpower the course. But the one-dimensionality of their games would also make them vulnerable to players of the calibre of Spieth and Kuchar, who are far more used to employing strategy and grit as a weapon.

In Kuchar, Spieth faced an opponent used to working very hard on his game and to grinding out results. Kuchar’s confidence came from this work and he wasn’t about to blow hot or cold like a McIlroy or Johnson or Day might do. While his game was never going to intimidate Spieth, Kuchar, one of the most respected professionals in tournament golf, guaranteed honesty and staying power. If Spieth wanted to win yesterday, then he was going to have to earn his victory.

As we have seen over the past three weeks in Europe, links courses have demonstrated once again that they are the truest test of a golfer’s all-round skill and resolve. By their very nature - the bouncing ball, the wind and the ground golf - players’ games are required to have no weaknesses.

Yesterday, the best two players in the tournament emerged to fight it out for one of the game’s greatest titles. It was a fitting finale for a great Open at Royal Birkdale.

That Kuchar caught and passed Spieth after his adventurous and almost disastrous 14th hole says much his tremendous effort to win his first major but it is at moments like this where champions emerge, and game and all as Kuchar was, he could only stand and applaud Spieth’s phenomenal eagle-biride-birdie-par finish to secure his first Open and third major championship. In doing so, Spieth has now become the youngest professional to win three of the possible four required for an elusive Grand Slam of Majors.

Is there something missing from Kuchar’s game that’s keeping a major championship from his trophy cabinet? Absolutely not, but more and more it seems that he will never have the capacity to pull “rabbits out of the hat” much like Spieth did when it counted most yesterday.

For someone who obviously knows how to get himself into contention in the biggest events, he has to hope his time will come soon.

He deserves to be mentioned with the game’s elite but when the going gets tough, he has to strategically find a way to get even tougher if he is to achieve his goal of securing his first major title!

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