Kuchar wins The Barclays and moves into the driver's seat

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August 29, 2010
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor

PARAMUS, N.J. -- With one tremendous swing of his 7-iron, Matt Kuchar didn't just win The Barclays. He didn't just zoom to the top of the FedExCup standings. And he didn't just fulfill his No. 1 goal of playing at East Lake, back in his old college stomping grounds of Atlanta.

He also become the favorite to win the FedExCup title.

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Oh, that's not to say we should give him the trophy and the $10 million bonus right now. Guys named Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and others will likely need to weigh in before all is said and done.

But as giddy as Kuchar was Sunday after winning at Ridgewood -- thus nailing down his spot in next month's TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola -- he actually missed one of the most important aspects of the win.

A year ago, Heath Slocum won The Barclays and eventually entered THE TOUR Championship in fifth position with 3,005 FedExCup points. Kuchar, thanks to his string of top-10s this year along with the 2,500 points he received for beating Martin Laird in Sunday's one-hole playoff, now has 3,937 and leads No. 2 Stricker by 1,365 points.

The possibilities that Kuchar will not be in the top five going into East Lake are infinitesimal, if they exist at all.

So not only is he guaranteed a spot at East Lake, he's virtually guaranteed a spot in the top five of FedExCup points. And that should not be underestimated, since it means he will control his own fate when these Playoffs reach their conclusion.

In other words, if Kuchar can win THE TOUR Championship, he'll win the FedExCup title. Simple as that.

You've got to like Kuchar's chances a month from now. He'll have the support of the home crowd, all cheering on their favored son from Georgia Tech, where he was an All-American. And he knows the course intimately, having played it many times (albeit not with the TOUR's setup).

"It's a home game," he said. "It's a course I know. It would be great to have friends and family to be there."

Of course, the main reason you've got to like Kuchar, who'll also make his first Ryder Cup appearance this year, is that he's on a serious roll.

His win Sunday was his third consecutive top-10 finish and his 10th this season, most by any player on TOUR. It seemed only a matter of time before he broke through this season, and thanks to his final-round 66 -- and his approach shot on the first playoff hole, that 7-iron from 192 yards out of the left rough that did a circular roll to within three feet of the pin at the 18th green for the winning birdie -- he's suddenly in full control of these Playoffs.

And he's full of confidence.

"Next week's a new week," he said, "but there's really nothing like winning to build your confidence."

Of course, next week's also another week to keep hanging out at the top of the leaderboard. A year ago, Kuchar finished tied for 15th at the Deutsche Bank Championship, and he also has another top-20 finish at TPC Boston.

But that's also the course Stricker won on last year. Finishing tied for third on Sunday after shooting his own 66, Stricker seems to be in typical form as the Playoffs get underway -- meaning, he's peaking at just the right time.

Sunday was his eight top-10 finish in 13 starts in the Playoffs. Nobody has more. Mr. September, indeed (with a dash of August thrown in).

"It's a good start," Stricker said. "I don't know where I'm going to end up in all this, but obviously a good start to the Playoffs."

It was also a good start for Woods, who opened the tournament with a first-round 65 and closed with a Sunday 67 to finish tied for 12th. That allowed him to easily move from his position at 112th in FedExCup points to 65th going into next week.

Woods seems closer than ever to making some noise on the back nine on Sunday, and he's already counting on making it to THE TOUR Championship -- even though his spot, unlike Kuchar's, is far from guaranteed.

"The next three venues I've won on," Woods said of TPC Boston, Cog Hill for the BMW Championship, then East Lake. "So I'm going to three venues I'm very familiar with and looking forward to it."

For now, though, everybody's chasing Kuchar, and wondering if he'll ever cool off.

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