Kuchar, top seeds make statements at Match Play
AUSTIN, Texas — Matt Kuchar has a place in the record book with Tiger Woods. Equally pleasing Friday was getting a spot in the weekend at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Kuchar had an easy time at Austin Country Club with a 7-and-6 victory over Si Woo Kim to win his 36th match in tournament history, matching the mark held by Woods.
“I still find it hard to comprehend that I’m saying that, that I tied one of his records,” Kuchar said. “So I’m hugely proud, please. There’s 300 more records, I’m sure, to go. But it’s a fun one to be able say you’ve got something you tied Tiger with.”
The final session of group play was all about getting to the knockout stage on the weekend, and a record number of top seeds survived.
Defending champion Scottie Scheffler (1), Rory McIlroy (3), Patrick Cantlay (4), Max Homa (5) and Xander Schauffele (6) each won their groups. That’s the highest number advancing among the top eight seeds since the Match Play switched to group play in 2015.
McIlroy had no trouble against Keegan Bradley in a rematch of their Sunday singles match in the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.
Scheffler won his eighth consecutive match dating to last year. He lost the opening two holes to Tom Kim and then won four of the next five holes to pull away in a 3-and-2 victory. Scheffler also had a chance to join Woods in the record book. Woods is the only player to have won golf’s most fickle tournament two years in a row.
“I’m not overthinking things,” Scheffler said. “I haven’t thought about last year once this week. Just glad to get through my group and focus on tomorrow.”
Next up for Scheffler is J.T. Poston, one of 11 players who won all three of their matches in stroke play.
That list includes J.J. Spaun, who has played only 46 holes in three days. Spaun’s last test was his toughest, against Min Woo Lee. He was 1 down with five holes to play when Spaun ran off four straight birdies for a 2-and-1 win. He is the No. 61 seed, the lowest to advance.
“My caddie said, ‘Let’s birdie every hole starting on 14.’ That’s kind of … well, that’s exactly what we did,” said Spaun, whose next match is against Schauffele.
Some players had an extremely short day when their opponents withdrew. Hideki Matsuyama was on the range for about 20 minutes when neck soreness forced him to concede. That sent Homa through to the weekend.
“It’s nice for me — bogey-free round,” Homa said. “Would have rather played, but I’ll take it as a quasi-win.”
The highest seed headed home was Jon Rahm. Even with a loss on Wednesday, he still had control of getting to the weekend if he beat Billy Horschel. Instead, Rahm took double bogey on the second hole and trailed the rest of the way.
The match got away from him when Rahm hit into the water on the par-3 11th to fall 4 down. He was in good shape to win the 12th until he set his wedge behind the ball in the rough to the right of the green, and the ball slightly rolled out of a divot. That was a one-shot penalty, he halved the hole with a par and then he missed a birdie chance on the next.
Horschel, who won the Match Play two years ago, beat him in 14 holes.
Cantlay, who lost in a playoff to Brian Harman two years ago, beat him with a short birdie putt on the 17th hole to advance for the first time in Match Play. Another newcomer to the weekend was Schauffele, who rallied to beat Tom Hoge.
Mackenzie Hughes and and Kurt Kitayama were the only players to lose matches on Wednesday and make it to the weekend. It wasn’t easy for either of them.
Hughes throttled Taylor Montgomery, 6 and 4, and then had to wait about two hours to face him in a sudden-death playoff. On the first hole, Montgomery hit a chunk pop-up into the trees, sailed the green and Hughes won with a 5-foot birdie.
Kitayama was in a three-way playoff with Tony Finau, whom he beat 4 and 3, and Adrian Meronk of Poland. Finau was eliminated on the first playoff hole. Kitayama won on the next one with a 20-foot birdie putt.
Other group winners: Jason Day, Sam Burns, Lucas Herbert and Cameron Young, who has 19 birdies and two eagles in 48 holes this week.
Kuchar is 44, the oldest player in the field, and he is leaning big on his experience. He won in 2013, lost in the championship match in 2019 and two other times reached the semifinals.
The first match he won was in 2010, against Anthony Kim.
Kuchar wouldn’t have been in the 64-man field if not for nine players being ineligible for signing with Saudi-funded LIV Golf. He wasn’t ever aware he was in range of Woods’ record until he won his first match Wednesday.
He had a chance to tie Woods on Thursday until missing a 5-foot putt and halving his match, and he said the record crossed his mind that night.
“The point of this tournament is to keep winning matches, and I wanted to win this match to be able to move on to the 16s,” Kuchar said. “So that was the main focus. Certainly getting a chance to tie any record of Tiger’s is an amazing thing.”
Along with being solid in match play, Kuchar’s needle is among the sharpest on tour. He said he has yet to send Woods a text about tying his record.
“Maybe tomorrow,” he said.
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