Matt Kuchar opened one of the pouches to his golf bag and discovered quite a mess waiting for him.
Last year’s top money winner had just put the finishing touches to his scorecard, discussed a few things with his caddie and then bent down to do a little spring cleaning with his bag.
Let’s see, there was a half-eaten Subway sandwich, four bananas in varying degrees of ripeness, maybe an apple or two with a bite out of each. He promptly put all of it in a nearby trash can, but his right hand had more stick’em on it than Lester Hayes.
No matter for the world’s No. 13-ranked golfer, who just spent two wonderful weeks in Hawaii preparing for the 2011 campaign. The Georgia Tech product is feeling so good about his game, he’s one of six golfers who will play the first three weeks of the PGA Tour season, leaving last night for a Wednesday tee time in the Bob Hope Classic.
When he made his schedule, it’s likely Kuchar didn’t hold out much hope of playing here on the weekend. In eight previous appearances since joining the tour in 2000, he made the cut only twice here at Waialae Country Club. He had a tie for fourth in 2002 and finished 65th in 2008.
And while yesterday’s 12-under 268 left him in a tie for fifth, four shots off the winning pace of playing partner Mark Wilson, he was in the hunt most of the day, just missing eagle putts on Nos. 9 and 18. Add his tie for sixth at last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions — he and Steve Stricker were the only two golfers to manage back-to-back top 10s — and his stay in the Aloha State was a good one.
"It was a very solid two weeks," said Kuchar, who pocketed $4.9 million in 26 events last year. "Unfortunately, I’ve missed a couple of cuts here recently at the Sony. I really like this place a lot. I like the golf course. I like the people.
"I played like I liked it a little bit better this week. It was a solid two weeks. I felt like I had more of a chance this week to potentially win and struggled to get putts to fall, particularly today. I’m awful happy with the two-week start."
Kuchar pulled to within one of Wilson’s lead with a birdie at the difficult par-4 second hole, but back-to-back bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4 dampened his spirits. He finally got a birdie at the ninth after just missing a makable 10-footer for eagle, leaving him with a wry grin spreading across his face.
He left a 15-footer for birdie at the 10th just short, lipped out a 9-footer for par at the 11th, dropped in a 14-footer for par at the 13th and just missed another birdie putt from 12 feet at the 15th, before finally sinking a 13-footer for birdie at the 16th. By then, he was out of the chase.
"I had a pretty good roll for eagle at the 18th (from 15 feet) and just missed it," Kuchar said. "That kind of summed up my day. I wasn’t bothered too much by those two bogeys early in the round. I just didn’t convert a couple of opportunities on the greens. Normally, I’m a pretty good putter. Unfortunately, I had a lot of opportunities coming in and I made only one of them."
As for going to the Hope, where he had a good finish last year, Kuchar likes his chances.
"I was awfully consistent the last two weeks and it feels like a continuation of last year," Kuchar said. "I’m hoping to have a continuation and even improve on 2010. I’m really excited how I’ve gotten the year off to a good start."