It’s just a matter of time until Matt Kuchar wins a major championship, and considering the way he’s played this weekend at the Memorial Tournament, that time might just come two weeks from now at Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open.
In fact, this side of Tiger Woods, Kuchar might be as good a bet as any to win at Merion, both because his game and psyche are tailored-made for a U.S. Open test, and they're currently as good as ever based on his performances the past two weeks on demanding courses and in significant events.
No, it’s not an overreaction to his two-shot lead at Muirfield Village heading into Sunday's final round, but rather recognition that the strengths of Kuchar’s game are on point heading into the U.S. Open. He’s driving the ball beautifully, he’s putting well and his confidence is on point at just the right time.
A week ago at the Crowne Plaza Invitational, Kuchar was the 54-hole leader, just as he is at Muirfield Village this week. He didn't close the deal at Colonial Country Club, but the same solid play that got him to within 18 holes of victory last week has been on display at Jack Nicklaus’ signature event the past three days.
Kuchar’s solid game led him to a two-under 70 in difficult conditions Saturday—the same conditions that had Rory McIlroy somewhat satisfied with a 75 and Tiger completely frustrated by a 79, which included the worst nine-hole score of his professional career.
“If you’re not on good form, these conditions are going to beat you up,” said Kuchar, who has been in solid form all season long. “If you’re not hitting the ball solid you don’t have a chance.”
As he typically does, Kuchar is avoiding mistakes—he has just six bogeys and nothing worse in three rounds—and is taking advantage of opportunities as they come to him. It just so happens that’s the book on how to win a U.S. Open, especially on a long, tight and difficult course such as Merion.
That form, however, hasn't just been on display the past two weeks. Kuchar has already won a World Golf Championship event this year, has earned more than $3 million in prize money and currently ranks third in FedEx Cup points behind only Tiger Woods and Brandt Snedeker.
His victory in the World Match Play Championship in February joined his triumph at last year’s Players Championship as the most significant of his career and as proof that his confidence is equal to his ability in terms of playing and winning on the largest of stages.
The bottom line is Kuchar’s game has by and large been spot on during the entire first half of the season. Kuchar hasn't missed a cut in 15 starts, including this week, and has posted five top-10 finishes—soon to be six considering the way he is playing at Muirfield Village.
In the first major of the year, Kuchar posted a tie for eighth at The Masters, the second straight year he has been in contention at Augusta National. Including his tie for third at 2012 Masters, and Kuchar has three top 10s and another top 30 in his past five major championship starts.
Specifically to the U.S. Open, arguably the toughest major championship to win each year, Kuchar has had relative success during the past several years. In 2010, he posted a tie for sixth place that was backed up in 2011 by a 14th-place finish. Last year, the Georgia native finished a respectable 27th at The Olympic Club.
All of this says one thing; Kuchar’s been knocking on the door, but up to now no one has been answering. That said, few who've watched him during his past two starts, at the Masters two months ago and in his match play triumph earlier this year, would argue that his game isn't in major championship form.
From the moment he burst onto the scene as a large-smiling, easy-going amateur at the 1998 Masters, Kuchar has been a fan favorite. But until the past couple years he’s been a popular professional who had failed to live up to the potential he promised as an amateur and distinguished collegian. That can no longer be said about Kuchar, who has some significant wins among his five PGA Tour career titles.
The only thing missing is a major championship triumph, and the promise for that has always included the U.S. Open, even though his best chances have come at Augusta National. Whether he wins the Memorial on Sunday is largely immaterial to what he will do at Merion two weeks from now.
What is important is the fact Kuchar game’s is ready, his mind is right and his time certainly seems to be now. Crazy, unexpected things happen in our national championship, but Matt Kuchar winning his first career major wouldn’t be one of them. Not even close.
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