PARAMUS, N.J. » Matt Kuchar stopped practicing for a playoff and walked over to the 18th green to watch with thousands of other spectators, planning to congratulate Martin Laird on the victory. A short time later, the celebration was for Kuchar.
His fortunes took quite a turn yesterday at The Barclays.
So did his golf ball.
Kuchar gave the FedEx Cup playoffs a memorable start with a 7-iron out of the rough that sent his ball toward the back of the green, where it caught enough of the slope to turn sharply to the left and roll to within 30 inches of the hole for a birdie.
"The shot came out beautifully," he said. "I ran it up to that back right bank and saw the crowd just all of a sudden … like a wave of people standing and cheering. I knew it was getting good. That was an exciting way to cap off this tournament."
Five shots behind to start the final round, Kuchar closed with a 5-under 66 and got into a playoff when Laird three-putted for bogey from just inside 25 feet on the final hole.
The timing could not have been better for Kuchar.
He had nine top 10s this year to earn a spot on his first Ryder Cup team, but didn’t have a trophy to show for his solid play. The victory put him atop the FedEx Cup standings, giving him a good shot at the $10 million prize. And the third victory of his career likely will move him to a career-best No. 10 in the world ranking.
Without a victory, Kuchar still would have been happy with his season.
"To win," he said, "it’s an incredible year. There’s nothing like the feeling of winning a PGA Tour golf tournament. You feel like you’re the best player in the world for this week. It’s just an amazing feeling to think there’s 125 of the best players in the world this week, and I came out first."
Tiger Woods continues to make progress, which in this case means he gets to keep going.
Woods, who started these playoffs at No. 112 in the standings, closed with a 4-under 67 to easily make the top 100 who advance to the second round next week at the Deutsche Bank Championship. Woods tied for 12th, his best finish since June, and moved up to No. 65.
Castle grad Dean Wilson, who was No. 109 entering the week and missed the cut, did not advance.
Laird, who recovered from a shaky start, looked just as shaky at the end, especially with his putter.
He was tied with Kuchar when he had a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 17th, only to roll it nearly 8 feet beyond the hole. He made that birdie putt to take the lead.
"I knew I had a chance of Martin only making par on 17. I thought that was probably my best chance," Kuchar said. "And once he hit that great shot just to the back fringe on 18, I was pretty much shutting down my practice session. I went over and just was a spectator thinking that he’s got this wrapped up."
Instead, Laird repeated his mistake. Only this time, his comeback putt for par never had a chance. Neither did Laird in the playoff after Kuchar’s shot stopped so close to the cup. Laird hit out of the rough to about 50 feet and made par.
"Obviously, not the finish I was looking for," said Laird, who shot a 71. "But I’m very proud of the way I played today. "I was kind of battling all day, and probably holed two or three of the biggest putts I’ve ever holed just to be where I was."
The only consolation for Laird was being safe through next month in the playoffs. He was at No. 95, hopeful of advancing to the second round, and his runner-up finish puts him at No. 3 and virtually guarantees he’ll be among the top 30 at the Tour Championship who compete for the $10 million prize that goes with the FedEx Cup.
Kuchar, who earned $1.35 million and leads the PGA Tour money list for the first time in his career, and Laird finished at 12-under 272.
Steve Stricker closed with a 66 to tie for third with Kevin Streelman.
Big prize for Molinari
Edoardo Molinari birdied the final three holes at Gleneagles, Scotland, on Sunday to win the Johnnie Walker Championship and secure a place on Europe’s Ryder Cup team.
The 29-year-old Italian received a wild-card pick from European captain Colin Montgomerie, a few hours after shooting a 1-under 71 during the final round to beat Brett Rumford by a shot.
"I was under a lot of pressure out there because I did not know if second place was going to be good enough to impress Colin Montgomerie with the wild-card situation," Molinari said. "So the win was very important to me."
Montgomerie also chose three-time major winner Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald, who is No. 10 in the world ranking.
Montgomerie had three picks for five worthy candidates. He had to leave off Paul Casey, who is No. 9 in the world and played on the last three teams, and Justin Rose, who won twice on the PGA Tour this summer at the Memorial and the AT&T National.
Langer wins by three
Bernhard Langer closed with a final-round 69 and pulled away from Nick Price down the stretch to win the Boeing Classic yesterday at Snoqualmie, Wash.
Langer got his fifth Champions Tour victory this season, and the second in the greater Seattle area after winning the U.S. Senior Open at Sammamish, Wash., a month ago.