Kuchar steadies ship after horror hole to clinch Singapore Open

Matt Kuchar with the SMBC Singapore Open trophy. (Photo by Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A triple bogey that wipes out a final-round lead could have spelt disaster for any professional golfer. Not Matt Kuchar though.

The American recovered from a nightmarish seventh hole, steadied himself and managed to eventually claim the SMBC Singapore Open title by three strokes over Britain’s Justin Rose at the Sentosa Golf Club on Sunday (19 January).

The 41-year-old world No. 24, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, withstood the charges of defending Open champion Jazz Janewattananond and Olympic gold medallist Rose to become the first American winner since Shaun Micheel in 1998.

“Strange things happen on the golf course,” he quipped about his seventh-hole misadventure after his 16th career victory.

“But I was able to regroup straight away; my caddie also had a few quick words, telling me not to let that rattle me. It was us remembering that there is still a lot more golf to play.”

Could have all gone awry

Indeed, it could have all gone awry for Kuchar at that par-five hole. He had a tricky second shot when his golf ball was lodged between two tree roots, and his first attempt hit one of the roots instead of the ball.

His fourth shot from the fairway then sailed way past the green and into the bushes. As his overnight three-shot lead vanished, with Jazz having caught up with a birdie on the same hole, Kuchar still made a long putt to limit the damage to a triple bogey.

Despite the setback, he managed to retain his poise admirably, steadying the wobble with three birdies in the back nine to fend off Rose’s late charge (four birdies in his back nine) for a one-under-par 70 to finish at 18-under 266 after four rounds.

“I went from a three-stroke lead to tied for the lead in a flash, but I knew I was still playing good golf and it was just a matter of resetting my golf,” he said.

“In life, you have a lot of similarities in that you face some difficult times, and it’s how you persevere, how you overcome those things that counts. So I certainly was awfully proud to be able to regroup and overcome that triple bogey.”

Nearest challengers fade after bogeys

Jazz was unable to hold on to the joint-lead, as two bogeys in the 11th and 12th holes undermined his bid to retain the title he won last year. The Thai eventually finished with an even-par 71 for a 14-under 270 total.

Rose was also made to rue three bogeys in his front nine, stalling his final-round charge until the later stages.

Nonetheless, the Englishman remained upbeat, saying, “Some second places hurt, and some you feel good. This was more of a feel-good second-place finish. I feel like I could build some momentum from this.”

With a packed 2020 golf calendar that includes the Tokyo Olympics and the Ryder Cup together with the usual four Majors, Kuchar is also encouraged by his strong start to the season. While he has yet to win a Major, he is also targeting on getting another Olympic medal.

“Certainly the Olympics is a huge goal of mine. I'm on the outside looking in, but hopefully this helps out with some world ranking points. It would be nice to try to do a little better than the bronze I got in Rio,” he said.

Singapore’s best-performing golfer was James Leow, the reigning SEA Games men’s singles gold medallist. The amateur, who shot a commendable five-under 66 in his third round, fared less well on Sunday, shooting a five-over 76 to finish in joint-41st with a 285 total.

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