PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Normally all smiles, Matt Kuchar wore a serious face for most of Sunday's final round of THE PLAYERS Championship. That intensity and focus paid off in the biggest win of his PGA TOUR career.
Kuchar shot a 2-under 70 to finish at 13 under and hold off a bevy of contenders at TPC Sawgrass. The win is the fourth in Kuchar’s career. With the 600 FedExCup points that comes with the victory, Kuchar now ranks sixth in the FedExCup standings.
Kuchar's last win on TOUR came at the 2010 Barclays. Since then, he's produced a steady supply of top-10 finishes -- 13 since the start of the 2011 season -- but no wins. Until Sunday.
Although Kuchar lives in Sea Island, Ga., he once lived within miles of TPC Sawgrass and is a native Floridian. His parents still live in the area, and his wife and kids were in attendance. He becomes the first American to win THE PLAYERS since Phil Mickelson in 2007.
“Such an amazing feeling,” Kuchar said. “It really is magical.”
Kuchar won by two strokes over Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird and Ben Curtis, who each finished at 11 under. Luke Donald was another shot back.
Kevin Na, the 54-hole leader who started the day one stroke ahead of Kuchar, shot a 4-over 76 to fall into a tie for seventh with Bo Van Pelt and Jhonattan Vegas.
“It was a big disappointment,” Na said, “but I’m happy for Matt. He played very well today, played solid all day.”
When Kuchar teed off to start his back nine, the championship had appeared to become a two-man race between him and Laird, who was four groups ahead. Both were at 12 under, and the next closest pursuers were three shots behind.
But after Laird suffered his first bogey of the day at the par-4 14th, Kuchar held the lead alone at 12 under. Meanwhile, Johnson had birdied the 11th to close to within two shots. And Fowler was starting to make noise, as was Curtis.
Kuchar held steady, though, then rolled in his biggest putt of the day, a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th to extend his lead to three shots going into the island-green 17th -- where he had found the water during the third round.
Although he landed safely on the green with his tee shot this time, Kuchar three-putted from 44 feet for bogey to drop to 13 under. Meanwhile, Fowler was standing over a makeable birdie putt on the 18th that would've moved him to 12 under.
But Fowler missed the putt, allowing Kuchar to take a two-shot lead going into the dangerous 18. Kuchar hit a perfect drive, found the green with his approach and two-putted from there.
Of the top five players on the leaderboard, Laird produced the lowest round, a 5-under 67. But he also started the day the farthest off the lead, at six shots. Ultimately, it was too much to overcome.
“One of the best rounds I’ve ever played under the circumstances and the conditions,” said Laird, who lost to Kuchar in a playoff at that 2010 Barclays.
Early on, it appeared Na was in control. After a birdie at the par-5 second, Na was at 13 under and holding a three-shot lead. But an errant approach shot at the fifth left him in trouble, and he eventually bogeyed for the first time in 26 holes. It only got worse from there, as he bogeyed three of the next four holes to drop out of the lead.
Fowler started strong with two birdies in his first four holes. But like Na, his round took a turn for the worse at the fifth. A poor second shot left him with an awkward lie, his ball on the edge of the bunker, his left foot in the bunker and his right foot in the rough. His chip came up up short of the green, and he had to settle for double bogey, and suffered another bogey two holes later.
Still, he rallied on the back nine, making four birdies with one bogey on the back side.
"It's a rush out there," said Fowler, who was vying for his second straight win after claiming last week’s Wells Fargo Championship. "Get yourself in contention on Sunday at THE PLAYERS, it's a lot of fun."
Donald, the reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year and world's No. 2-ranked player, shot a back-nine 30 that was only one shot off the tournament record. That left him with a 66 and 9 under for the tournament.
The low rounds of the day were posted by David Toms and Bob Estes with 7-under 65s, just one off the final-round record low at TPC Sawgrass. Toms, who lost in a playoff here last year to K.J. Choi, eagled the par-4 sixth from 123 yards, playing his final 13 holes in a bogey-free 8 under.
"I was so far back and I was just trying to have a decent finish," said Toms, who will defend his title next week at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. "No reason why I shouldn't shoot at a flag."
The good news for Tiger Woods this week is that he played all 72 holes, something he was unable to do the previous two years due to injuries. The bad news is that he was never in contention. He shot a final-round 73 to finish at 1 under for the tournament.
Woods said he played well in spurts but that he just needs "to be a little bit more consistent."