Even in the most stressful form of golf, Matt Kuchar and his easy smile made the Match Play Championship look like a weekend game with his buddies.
It was fun when he built a 4-up lead at the turn. And when Orange Hunter Mahan threw his best golf at him during a wild back nine Sunday at Dove Mountain, Kuchar never looked rattled, never felt as if the match belonged to anyone but him, and never lost the lead.
Kuchar kept momentum on his side with four birdies on the back nine, the last conceded on the 17th hole for a 2-and-1 victory. He captured his first World Golf Championship and put his name in the conversation as among the most lethal players in match play.
In his case, looks are deceiving.
“Match play I find to be such an amazing, unique format, so much fun to play and so much pressure,” Kuchar said. “It seems like each hole there's so much momentum riding and so much pressure on every hole. To come out on top after six matches of playing the top 64 guys in the world, it's an incredible feeling.”
Mahan, trying to join fellow Orange County native Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the Match Play Championship, had gone 169 holes without trailing dating to the opening round last year until Kuchar won the fourth hole of the championship with a par.
“When you play against him, you know what you’re going to get,” Hunter said about Kuchar. “You're going to get a competitive guy who's probably not going to make mistakes.”
Kuchar became the second player in the past three years to win the Match Play Championship without ever playing the 18th hole, and his record in the event improved to 15-3, the highest winning percentage of anyone who has played at least 10 matches.
In the semifinals, when the wind chill hit a low of 37 degrees with the wind, Kuchar had no trouble against Jason Day in a 4-and-3 win.
Mahan hit a series of remarkable wedge shots in beating Ian Poulter, 4 and 3, in his semifinal. He twice hit difficult chips inside 5 feet to win holes, and then seized control with a chip-in from about 70 feet on the 12th hole to take command.
Day defeated Poulter in the consolation match, 1 up.
It was the first all-American final in five years at the Match Play Championship, and Kuchar's win gave the Americans a clean sweep of the PGA Tour's West Coast Swing for the second consecutive year.
Kuchar and Woods are the only former U.S. Amateur champions to win the Match Play Championship. Kuchar won the Amateur in 1997, the year after Woods turned pro. He recalls being in the semifinals with three Walker Cup players and feeling out of his league.
That wasn't the case this year, even against Mahan. Collectively, they have a 27-4 record at this event the last three years.
“The difference today I think is just all that experience now,” Kuchar said. “I step up to a first tee and I feel confident and I feel like I belong out here. Back in '97, I was so new to it, I wasn't sure I belonged. I loved being out there, but it was ... I was way more nervous than I am today.”