The Barclays kicks off the first of four Playoff events that will determine the 2013 FedExCup champion.
One of Matt Kuchar’s goals for 2013 was to win twice in the same year for the first time. Mission accomplished. Kuchar won the World Golf Championships–Accenture Match Play Championship in February, then won the Memorial Tournament in June.
Now Kuchar has another goal. Winning the FedExCup. His chances have never been better. He’s in second place in the standings, trailing only Tiger Woods as the FedExCup Playoffs kickoff Thursday at The Barclays.
Remember when Kuchar burst onto the scene in 1998, as low amateur at both the Masters and the U.S. Open? The boyish smile that the galleries and cameras fell in love with? The languid swing that seemed certain to carry him to stardom?
Not everything has been smooth for Kuchar on the journey from there to here. In 2005, Kuchar finished 159th on the PGA TOUR money list, lost his card, failed to regain it at qualifying school, and spent the 2006 season on the Web.com Tour.
That was the year Kuchar started working with current swing coach Chris O’Connell. Kuchar was struggling. He needed a change. At the suggestion of his former college teammate at Georgia Tech, Matt Weibring, Kuchar hooked up with O’Connell. Their personalities clicked, and Kuchar was open to making the swing changes that have helped him become one of the world’s most consistent players.
Now Kuchar hopes to capitalize on that consistency by winning the FedExCup. It would be another indication that at age 35, the best for Kuchar is yet to come.
"The FedExCup has always meant a lot to Matt," O’Connell said during a recent phone interview. "He views it as the culmination to the year. You can’t just have a couple of good tournaments to win it. You have to play solid golf throughout the year, then during the Playoffs you really have to step up your game. Plus, the TOUR Championship is in his college town of Atlanta. That’s important to him.
"I think Matt’s competitiveness gets hidden a little bit behind his smile. He feels fortunate to be able to make a living playing professional golf. He loves golf. He loves to compete. He very much wants to win. A lot of people see the smile, and they think he’s out there satisfied to have a top-10 finish. He’s at the point in his career now where he’s trying to win golf tournaments. And he feels like if he plays well, he should have an opportunity to win every week."
There’s no reason Kuchar shouldn’t feel good about his chances this week. Something about playing in The Barclays agrees with Kuchar, no matter where the event is held. Kuchar won The Barclays in 2010, and finished second to Dustin Johnson at The Barclays in 2011.
After taking last week off, Kuchar seems like a good choice to make a late-season run. He hasn’t missed a cut in 19 starts this year. That includes 10 finishes in the top 10. That’s consistency. O’Connell said improved iron play over the past few years has made the difference in Kuchar’s game.
"Matt has become a very good iron player with the long irons – hybrid, 4-iron, 5-iron, all the way down to an 8-iron," O’Connell. "When I met Matt, he tended not to hit those clubs high enough. He didn’t spin the ball enough. So he didn’t hit as many greens, and he didn’t get as many birdie opportunities, because he didn’t hit those clubs close enough on a regular basis."
In addition to winning the FedExCup, winning a major remains undone on Kuchar’s to-do list. That will have to wait until next year at least. Kuchar tied for eighth at the Masters this year, and O’Connell believes Kuchar’s ballstriking now gives him a chance to win any major at any venue.
"In the last couple of years, majors have become more of a focus for Matt," O’Connell said. "He feels like he has the game to win a major, that it will happen at some point. The thing is, with his consistency, I think he’ll keep getting opportunities."
The opportunity to win the FedExCup is still very much alive for Kuchar. He has never been a better player, but since his days as an amateur, his demeanor on the course hasn’t changed. Same smile. Heck, when you’re playing as well as Kuchar, it’s easy to smile.
Clifton Brown is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.