Last Match Play, last chance for Kuchar at Tiger's record
By DOUG FERGUSON
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Matt Kuchar has a chance to break at least one record belonging to Tiger Woods, and the Dell Technologies Match Play will be his last chance.
That's because this is the last edition of the Match Play. And for starters, Kuchar feels lucky just to be part of the 64-man field at Austin Country Club.
At stake: He needs to win three matches to set the record for most matches won in a tournament that dates to 1999. Kuchar is guaranteed three matches, starting Wednesday, in the group format.
Kuchar has reached the Final Four four times, winning the championship in 2013, losing to Kevin Kisner in 2019 and twice losing in the semifinals. His career mark is 34-11-4. Woods, the only three-time winner of Match Play, has a 36-12 mark.
“This is an event I love, an event that's been really good to me,” Kuchar said Tuesday as he ducked inside from a steady drizzle. “It's something I had my eye on and had to do some asking around, ‘Hey, how do I look to get in this thing?’ I'm awfully excited it worked out.”
Match Play was the most unique of the World Golf Championships when the series began in 1999, and it was the last of them to go.
The WGC at Firestone moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 2019 and then was converted two years later to a FedEx Cup playoff event.
The WGC that initially alternated between the U.S. and Europe moved to Doral (and absorbed a regular PGA Tour event), and then headed to Mexico City when a sponsor could not be found for the Donald Trump-owned course, and then was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The HSBC Champions in Shanghai hasn’t been played since 2019 due to the pandemic, and the China Golf Association hasn’t allowed it to resume. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan doesn’t expect that event to continue with the move toward so many elevated events in the new schedule.
And now the Dell Match Play is done after this year, a blow for fans who enjoy the most unpredictable nature of 18-hole matches and for Austin, which will be without the highest level of golf.
It ends with a 64-man field that had to dip down to No. 77 in the world ranking to fill the field, and another sign of these divisive times in golf.
That means 11 players would not be in Austin if not for LIV Golf, including Kuchar.
“I guess I'm grateful for LIV for a lot of things,” Kuchar said with a laugh, a reference to the $20 million purse this week, which was part of the PGA Tour's response to the Saudi-funded threat of LIV.
Kuchar can break Woods’ record by sweeping his three matches in group play, but that’s never easy - no matter the opponents. Kuchar is the No. 59 seed and faces Viktor Hovland, Chris Kirk and Si Woo Kim - all of whom have won tournaments in the last four months.
Kuchar isn't sure why he thrives in match play, though there is one adage about this format that doesn't get a lot of attention.
“Good form is the most important thing to success,” he said.
Scottie Scheffler has a little of both. The No. 1 player in the world already has two wins this year, the most recent two weeks ago at The Players Championship. Scheffler made his debut in the Match Play in 2021 by reaching the championship match and losing to Billy Horschel, and then he won the Match Play last year over Kisner.
Woods is the only player to have won Match Play in consecutive years.
“Match play is a little bit different,” Scheffler said. “But I think the guys playing the best golf do what they have to do to win the match and win the tournament and I think it’s a good format. It’s a little funky, but a change of pace.”
Scheffler won last year as the No. 5 seed, and only three top seeds in the previous 23 years have won the Match Play - Rory McIlroy in 2015, Dustin Johnson in 2017 and Woods three times (2003, 2004 and 2008). Two players in his group, Tom Kim and Davis Riley, are playing for the first time.
Jon Rahm reached the championship match in 2017 in his debut. He is coming off a stomach virus bad enough to knock him out of The Players Championship after one round.
The Spaniard would love to see the format return to the PGA Tour schedule at some point.
“It's really the only time throughout the year, besides maybe the Ryder Cup, where you’re playing truly against the person in front of you, which is much more relatable to every sport we play in the world,” Rahm said.
“It's fun. It’s a lot more aggressive. You see more birdies. You see a lot of things happen."
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Updated March 21, 2023