Ross: Kuchar impresses The Bear, now hopes to play like one, too

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DUBLIN, Ohio -- For those who were wondering, the beard won't survive this week.

But Matt Kuchar's wife Sybi liked it, so he let it grow. It's become itchy and scratchy, though, so "I'll be shaving the minute I get home," he said firmly on Sunday evening.

Besides, even with the U.S. Open looming large on the horizon, Kuchar isn't superstitious like NHL players are. He makes his own luck -- and nowhere was that more evident than last week at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance.

Kuchar put on a virtual exhibition Sunday at Muirfield Village, closing with a 68 to secure his sixth career PGA TOUR victory and his second of the year.

And when runner-up Kevin Chappell hit his approach at the 72nd hole to 2 feet, Kuchar delivered the knockout punch, calmly draining a 21-footer for one final birdie and the two-stroke win.

When the ball obediently dropped into the cup, Kuchar celebrated by sticking his right fist into the air just as the tournament host, Jack Nicklaus, was high-fiving the winner's two young sons in perfect symmetry.  

"That was not just a relief that I've ... sealed the deal, that was, yes, I have done it. I have won the Memorial," Kuchar said. "It felt so good. Then to walk off the green and greet Mr. Nicklaus and have him congratulate me -- that's something I'll certainly never forget."

Kuchar was near-flawless on Sunday, too. He didn't miss a fairway until the 17th hole and found all but two greens in regulation. That long putter he rests so confidently against his forearm performed like it was radar-driven, and Kuchar ended the week ranked first in the distance of putts he made and second in strokes gained-putting.

Chappell, who birdied his last two holes to at least make Kuchar squirm a little, noted there aren't many flaws in Kuchar’s game. And Muirfield Village isn't exactly a course where a player coming from behind can force the issue, anyway -- and Kuchar had built a commanding four-shot lead before he bogeyed the 16th hole.  

"His bad shots hit greens, first of all," Chappell said. "And he's really good with the putter. I think I heard (Nick) Faldo say on TV last week he's not a 10 in every category of his game, but he's better than seven in all aspects of the game. And he just doesn't make very many mistakes."

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Nicklaus was impressed, too.

"Matt shot 68, 70, 70, 68, four pretty special rounds," he said. "And then to have his closest competitor birdie the last two holes and he was right up to the challenge and topped him, I thought was a pretty special finish."

Truth be told, Kuchar had come to Muirfield Village with an abundance of confidence after a second-place finish last week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. He took the lead into the final round at Hogan's Alley, played in the final group and closed with a 68 only to be passed by Boo Weekley's 66.

But it wasn't like Kuchar beat himself. The man who now has 35 top-10 finishes -- including four wins -- since 2010 rarely does. So when Kuchar came to Muirfield Village, where he finished second last year and hasn't finished higher than 10th in four years, he was confident he would play well.

"Absolutely. Great golf breeds more great golf," Kuchar said. "Winning tournaments breeds more winning tournaments. Anytime you can get comfortable playing in that final group, finishing off a tournament, winning a tournament is a huge amount of confidence.
    
"I think last week was helpful playing in the last group at Colonial. I played some good, steady golf, not quite good enough. But having that opportunity again the very next week, I felt good out there. I knew my game was in good shape and was a lot more comfortable in the situation."

Now that Kuchar has his first multiple-win season, which he said had been missing from his "pedigree," and assured his spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team, the Georgia Tech product can set his sights on his first major championship. He says he'll have a lot of confidence, and we saw Sunday what a difference that makes.

Kuchar also got some special advice from the major-maestro himself. Nicklaus, the owner of a record 18 major championships, strongly suggested Kuchar visit Merion next week to get rid of the nerves and find a comfort zone with the course that hasn't hosted a U.S. Open since 1981.

Consider it done. Kuchar now says he'll head to Merion on Monday night after a corporate outing at Baltusrol. The Golden Bear was pleased.

"When you're playing well, that's so important, when you're playing well, because it really validates how you feel about yourself," Nicklaus said.

Sunday was a pretty darn good feeling, too.

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